Creating a culture of wellness in the first responder workplace is imperative in fostering healthy habits in response to the trauma that will be faced in the field.
It’s even more critical for first responder employers to actively create dialogue with departments regarding mental health implications, provide programming for those suffering from post traumatic stress, and share resources that they can utilize to lead a life of wellness.
Maintaining personal mental health and wellness can be difficult if the environment around a person is not conducive to it. However, if they’re working in a negative, unhealthy environment that is not actively encouraging wellness, it can be challenging to sustain such health, especially in their home life. If a first responder requires help and the culture at work is not reminding them of the resources available, it may lead them to seek out or resort to other, less healthy ways of coping.
The stigmatization of first responders seeking assistance has led millions to suffer in silence. But, implementing various peer support programs such as Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, or Employee Assistant Programs and having these resources readily available can help bring about more awareness in and around the workplace.
What is the Asher Model? How is it helpful?
The Asher Model is a seven-point approach to a culture of wellness. This approach was created and named after Asher, a police officer and U.S. Marine who committed suicide.
The police chief of that department, Neil Gang, was left wondering how the situation could have happened, why they didn’t see the warning signs and what he could have done to prevent it.
According to Gang’s account, Asher’s death made him realize that there needed to be a significant change. With some time and consideration, Gang began creating this model to bring those tough conversations out of the shadows and out into the open to promote officer wellness.
He realized the need for a multifaceted approach and a paradigm switch where action-focused, innovative problem solvers take a stand, focus on solutions, and don’t just raise awareness of the problem. The seven points of this approach as it relates to a culture of wellness include:
- Awareness – Create an environment where “It’s okay not to be okay.” Having open and honest discussions with employees about wellness will forge camaraderie and comfort.
- Solution Focused Approach – Focus on creating solutions and not the problems.
- Peer Support – Create a proactive, trained peer support team along with CISM and a therapy dog program.
- Resiliency – Educate employees on resiliency, mindfulness, PTS, emotional intelligence, and simple daily wellness exercises like yoga, deep breathing, and mindful meditation.
- Healthy Habits – Encourage physical fitness and healthy eating habits in the workplace. Allocate budget funds to build a fitness facility and remove unhealthy options from vending machines and substitute with healthier items.
- Spirituality- Develop a police/clergy coalition, chaplain program, and community outreach programming, like “Pray with the Police.”
- Family- Involve first responder families from the orientation process forward. Providing access to digital wellness resources, relationship support, financial literacy, and retirement preparation tools, from rookie to retirement.
While the Asher Model’s approach to creating a culture of wellness was made with police departments in mind, its sentiment can be carried to other areas and first responder workplaces, such as fire, emergency medical services, and nurses.
It’s imperative to note that mental health and wellness programming, ideas, and conversations are continuously evolving. Even if the specifics of the approach may not be transferable to every field of work, it can fuel inspiration for new approaches, models, and standards that will keep the conversation going regarding first responder wellness in the workplace and far beyond.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder and one that should be taken seriously. This type of disorder typically builds up over a period of time and can be triggered by a traumatic life event or stressful experience.
For those of you who have never experienced OCD or may have never come across one who suffers from this disorder may be asking, “What exactly is OCD?”
This type of mental health disorder is composed of two parts, obsession and compulsion; although most who battle this disorder have both, it isn’t unlikely that one may only suffer from obsession or compulsion.
This disorder is brought forth by fear and causes much distress along the way. The obsession portion of OCD causes a person to obsess over repetitive thoughts, urges, or images. While the compulsive part of this disease forces the person to perform the thought, task, or urge they obsess over.
For example, a person whose wife passed away has developed OCD over the first two years after her death. In this specific case, it has caused the husband to tap the light switch four times before turning on any and every light in the house; this is performed every time a light needs to be turned on.
OCD is almost a ritual-like experience, and if the specific ritual is not performed, it often leaves the person in panic; but if the ritual is performed, anxiety and stress are often decreased.
With the man mentioned above, his fear is losing other family members, so he performs this “tapping” ritual to ensure that his other family members do not pass away.
Many who suffer from this disorder understand that their thoughts and habits do not make sense, but they cannot quit due to their worry when they do not perform the ritual.
Surprisingly, OCD is far more common than you may think. It affects people of all ages, including men, women, the elderly, teenagers, and adolescents, and the average age of a person diagnosed is only 19 years old.
“Obsessive compulsive disorder was once considered a rare condition, but is now viewed as not only one of the more prevalent psychiatric disorders, but also one of the most disabling medical disorders. Previously, obsessive compulsive neurosis was described in terms of unconscious conflict. Today, it is regarded as a neuropsychiatric disorder mediated by specific neuronal circuitry and closely related to neurological conditions such as Tourette’s syndrome and Sydenham’s chorea.”
With millions of people experiencing OCD across the nation, it’s important to know the signs and learn about treatments to be prepared should this be a disorder you or a loved one experiences now or in the future.
In 2021, there are still lots of studies that need to be performed as doctors do not precisely know how OCD is brought forth within the space of the brain, but what we do know is that OCD can be heightened in stressful situations or difficult periods of life.
Below are some symptoms to keep in mind that may align with OCD:
- Worrying about yourself or loved ones getting hurt or dying
- Consistent awareness of blinking, breathing, or any other body sensations
- A nagging thought that a partner is unfaithful, without reason
- Performing tasks in a specific order or number every time
- Finding yourself counting things, unnecessarily
- Having a fear of touching doorknobs, public toilets, or shaking hands
If you or someone you know experiences any of the symptoms listed above, do not worry; there are numerous tools and tactics that you may utilize to manage the OCD.
We understand OCD can be debilitating, and we want you to know that you’re not limited to professional help, as they’re also many other forms of tools and resources you can use to manage OCD on your own.
Here are some ways you can treat OCD, both medically and holistically:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (psychotherapy)
- Mindful meditation (headspace app)
- Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Deep breathing
“A helpful way to treat OCD is to realize what your triggers are. Although OCD can be a constant flow of obsessive thoughts throughout the entire day, you likely do have some triggers, whether you realize it or not. When you start to understand triggers that cause your compulsions, it can help to manage symptoms. You can learn to prepare yourself for the trigger of an OCD compulsion and prepare yourself to go against what your brain is telling you.”
At First Responder Wellness, we provide guidance to those ready to take the path to recovery and wellbeing. We offer various programs within a community of others who know what it is like to be on the front lines. For more information on how we can help, call (888) 743-0490.
Many people around the world benefit from mindful meditation, and so many others would like to meditate but don’t know how. No worries, your theories about the act of meditation may seem complicated, but it’s not complicated at all.
As you may already know, mindful meditation is just the act of practicing mindfulness, which focuses on sensing your surroundings and feelings while deep breathing.
One myth about mindful meditation is that it takes too much time to complete, which is far from the truth. Please note, deep breathing and mindful meditation can be accomplished in as little as one minute per day, but a preferred amount of time is about five to 20 minutes per session.
When meditating, you do not have to be sitting on the floor with your legs crossed (as is typically depicted in meditation practices); you can be anywhere. What is great about mindful meditation, along with deep breathing, is that you can practice it at your desk, in the car while sitting in traffic, in the shower, on vacation, and literally anywhere you’d like.
The deep breathing component of mindful meditation can be achieved by simply taking five deep breaths, which takes around one minute to complete.
On average, the ideal pace of a deep breathing exercise is inhaling for five seconds, exhaling for five seconds; you can also hold each inhale for two seconds between exhaling to strengthen the exercise.
Practicing mindful meditation by consciously being aware of thoughts and sensing your surroundings while practicing deep breathing can alleviate anxiety, reduce depression, anxiousness, insomnia, lower blood pressure, and heart rate.
“If you have battled depression in your life, mindful meditation could be an inexpensive, natural and easy way to help. Over four months, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy patients said that it was more or just as helpful as antidepressants or counseling for depression. While 75 percent of the patients in the study who were on antidepressants were able to come off of them after 15 months of follow-up.”
Dr. Shelly Sethi, Personalized Medicine
For those interested in giving mindful meditation a go, we have a couple of app recommendations, including Headspace and Calm; either of the two are great choices to get you started today.
The Headspace app is free to download, while Headspace Plus is $12.99 per month and comes with an array of services at your fingertips. This app comes with the ability to sift through hundreds of meditations, sleep casts, energizing workouts, and music playlists to find focus. Every day you can be reminded to meditate and enjoy one minute or up to one hour of practices guided by one of its three meditation experts.
For those who may be stressed out about the future, a forthcoming event, or fear of the unknown, there is a section called “Fear of the Future.” This section provides the user with tools to not allow worrying to consume your daily life.
No matter what you may be dealing with or experiencing, we’re confident Headspace has a section tailored to your current needs.
Similar to Headspace, Calm is another guided meditation app that can bring calmness into your life. You can try the app for free or upgrade to its premium for $14.99 per month to improve sleep quality, reduce stress or anxiety, improve focus, and gain self-improvement.
According to the platform, 84 percent of Calm users who used the app five times a week saw improved mental health. What’s great about this app is that the user undergoes a questionnaire, and the platform will recommend the best meditation practices for you to strengthen your mentality and reduce stress.
Before signing up for a monthly membership, we recommend starting with either of the app’s free trials to determine if it’s for you. We’re excited to have you learn the basics of meditation and understand how mindful activity can be achieved by just taking five cleansing breaths a day!
Strengthening self-esteem and confidence in sobriety serves as the footprint to continued wellness in recovery. When we are confident, we feel as if we can do anything. When our self-esteem is at an adequate level or higher, we believe we deserve the best.
But, when a person is in recovery and has not tackled how to build self-esteem and confidence, he or she is more likely to revert to abusing substances; due to the lack of a solid inner foundation.
Finding inner self-esteem and confidence is sometimes easier said than done. If this doesn’t come naturally as a first responder, it can be taxing to constantly feel the pressure and need to portray confidence outwardly to those around you.
Due to the pressures, some may turn to substance abuse to give them a sense of confidence, even if it’s false and short-lived. Alcohol tends to give people certain confidence they usually would not have, but this is because it lowers one’s inhibitions rather than providing a true sense of confidence and self-esteem.
Those who suffer from substance abuse and low self-esteem may struggle to find happiness and self-worth away from their addiction, but it can be done. When an individual decides to get sober, it’s imperative that they also strengthen their self-esteem and build their confidence in healthy and practical ways. This is to help ensure they don’t feel the need to turn to substances again.
Here is a list of experiences that may contribute to low self-esteem
- Emotional or physical abuse
- Being ignored, ridiculed, teased
- Facing harsh criticism
- Expectations to be perfect
Now, here are some tips on how you can develop high self-esteem
- Being treated respectfully
- Being listened to
- Having achievements recognized
- Acceptance of mistakes
Building confidence, paired with strengthening self-esteem, is a winning combination to lead a life of continued sobriety. Please remember, building confidence will not happen overnight, or even in a month. It’s something we have to practice every day by redirecting our thoughts and focusing on the positive.
Below is a list of 6 tips you can use to build your confidence:
Practice using positive affirmations – At first, you may find that this feels forced and that you don’t believe your own words. Choosing one or two positive affirmations, writing them down, or reading them aloud every day can help build confidence. If we say to ourselves every day, “I deserve respect and happiness,” or “I am strong and capable,” we will begin to believe it.
Recognize and challenge negative thoughts – Identifying negative thoughts and changing those thought patterns is essential for staying sober. See how your mind naturally gravitates towards specific thoughts and try looking at them from a different, more positive perspective. By changing “I can’t do this” to “I can try my best,” we can start to climb out of this negative rut we’ve dug ourselves into.
Keep a journal – Seeing our thoughts, worries, and wishes on paper can help us view our mind from a more distant—and somewhat more objective—a perspective where we can recognize unhealthy patterns and work toward changing them.
Surround yourself with uplifting people – Confidence and self-esteem must come from within to succeed in staying sober; having supportive people around you is also important. Reach out to people you look up to and respect for support while also learning to let unhealthy, negative relationships go; this may help you see the good in yourself.
Focus on success instead of failures – It is easy to get tripped up over a failure, and while these are important to learn from, it’s unhealthy to lament over them for a long time. If we focus on each small success, we can appreciate them more when they occur.
Take responsibility – Take responsibility for cultivating your self-esteem and happiness, as these are things that come from within. Make an active decision each day to put in the work it takes to become a more confident, self-loving, and sober person until it becomes a natural habit.
Remember, once an individual decides to get sober, addressing issues with self-esteem is essential. Having low self-esteem in recovery can affect one’s ability to find happiness. Nonetheless, building confidence and self-esteem can be done; we believe in you.
Did you know meditation is one of the most effective forms of therapy? But, not everyone can sit still and rid their mind of thoughts.
Don’t worry, we have your back and some ideas on how you can gain the positive effects of meditation without meditating.
Decades of research have proven that meditating a little bit each day can profoundly affect mental and physical health. Meditation decreases stress, improves focus, reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, boosts the immune system, helps manage pain, and even reduces cravings for those struggling with addiction.
Finding stillness and quiet reflection is a great goal to work towards in meditation practice, but any one of the following methods is a perfect alternative in the meantime!
One simple way to begin meditating while in motion is to take a long walk. While most guided meditations encourage you to focus on your breath to anchor you to the present moment, you can focus on your strides and the rhythmic movement of your body during walking meditation. Listening to the sound your feet make when they hit the ground and the sensation of movement in your body as you walk can provide you with a tool to ground yourself and keep you from getting lost in anxious thoughts.
Many forms of martial arts, such as tai chi, incorporate a meditative practice. Some practices utilize katas or patterns of training exercises practiced in a particular order. These practices require the individual to memorize complex movements and become completely in tune with their body in a way that makes it impossible to become lost in thought. These ancient arts were developed for the strengthening of the mind-body connection, which ultimately improves both physical and mental wellness.
Yoga combines physical movement with a meditative focus and purposeful breath. Some types of yoga are less physically demanding and more closely resemble traditional meditation, such as yin yoga. Yin prompts practitioners into deep stretches that they may be asked to hold for several minutes while taking slow, deliberate breaths. For those seeking a more active form of meditation, a vinyasa class can provide a great workout while teaching you to move with your breath and practice mindfulness.
Task meditation is great for those who feel they don’t have time to meditate. We spend time each day doing chores such as washing dishes, folding laundry, or cooking; most of us tend to get lost in thought during these activities, and you may even find that you can’t remember completing the task once it’s finished. i.e., if you’re washing the dishes, feel the warm water, smell the soap, and pay attention to the details of every dish. Instead of allowing your mind to wander about the future or past, focus on the task at hand.
Another ideal strategy is to incorporate a meditation practice into your daily shower. Bathing is an invigorating and restorative practice on its own, but many of us are guilty of getting lost in unproductive thoughts while showering. Instead, draw your attention to the smell of the soap, feeling of the water, and sensation of the steam in your lungs; focus less on unproductive thoughts and worries.