First responders have to put emotion last, critical thinking first. Front line personnel don’t get the luxury of “feeling” everything happening. Instead, they have to separate the mind and body to deal with critical issues in front of them. As the adrenaline wears off, they might begin to realize how stressed they have been and even be flooded with memories of work experiences they encountered. Fortunately, first responders can reduce stress positively if they can gain some tools.
Why Stress Matters
Stress is a physiological response to the environment. It might be past experiences, present-day concerns, or worries about the future that create a stress response. Mental and physical effects of stress can become difficult to manage. To make matters worse, first responders are often the last to seek help for work-related stress. First responders need to learn how to cope with stress both during an incident and after it is over. These two things help a first responder deal with what they experience and may set the stage for their ability to overcome challenges in the future. The duration of stress and its impact on mental and physical health cannot be understated. Emergency personnel and police officers, among others, may:
- Become overwhelmed during an incident
- Hide stress to cope
- Experience nausea, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate
- Report recurring nightmares or an inability to deal with emotions
- Experience family conflict
- Suffer from substance use disorders
- Suffer from mental health complications
- Go through feelings of grief and loss compounded by secondary trauma
Stress Reduction Tips
Although it may be hard to think positively about how to handle stress, it is manageable. Taking time to walk through changes will help set a first responder up for success when it comes to healing and coping with significant stress levels.
Ask for Vacation
Time away, going on vacation, and making space to heal are all essential measures while working through stress. Even though they commit their lives to helping others, self-care is critical for first responders to avoid burnout, substance use, and other issues. While traumatic incidents happen, they don’t have to take over a person’s life. It may be time to ask for space to reinvest in self-care if stress feels too much.
Do Fun Things
Find activities to engage in that alleviate stress. Such hobbies include boxing, martial arts, walking, nature hikes, being with family, drawing, or any number of other things. Anything safe, healthy, and fun will create a place where joy can filter back in slowly, even if it feels like it takes forever. Having fun and laughing decreases stress and brings joy and peace back to the journey.
Staying in shape seems complicated, but don’t give up. Take breaks, have lunch, and stay away from fatty foods. Watch out for sugar and salt, as well, because these add on the pounds before a person realizes it has happened. Unhealthy or processed fast foods can create problems too. Drink water and eat a healthy balance of veggies, fruits, and whole grains for long term health. Try some new exercises with colleagues, go running, or join a couch to 5K group to help bring motivation back.
Practice meditation or yoga. To reclaim your life, engage in activities that are relaxing and work out the entire body, like yoga. These things help relieve anxiety, depression, and stress. Meditation helps reduce pain and builds a healthy balance of mental and physical wellbeing while teaching you to see things differently and find peace.
Write Things Down
Write out all the thoughts and feelings that come up during a day, week, or month. Start noting when stress is highest and when it is lowest. Allow some space to express without judgment or fear of recrimination. Nobody is going to see it or read what is written (keep it in a safe place). Make a gratitude journal part of the daily and nightly practice of noticing what is good and what is hard. Don’t judge it, just accept what it is. Review the writings with yourself and ask how you can handle each situation better in the future.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. There is a lot that comes up, especially trauma, and it can impact work and personal lifestyle. Active participation in therapy helps work out details in a confidential space. Don’t worry about what others think, do it for self-preservation and to keep the mind clear of junk.
If it seems hard to keep going forward, even with these steps in place, it might be time to ask if it is worth going to treatment for substance use or mental health issues. Finding space to get help may be the best gift to give oneself to work on feeling better and learning how to thrive in life and at work. Don’t push anything aside until giving treatment and seeking additional support, some thought.
Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We help you reimagine what is possible and create the life you’ve been dreaming of.
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