self care tips for first responders

4 Self-Care Tips for First Responders

Published on December 29, 2019 by First Responder Wellness

First responders sacrifice so much to keep the rest of us safe.  As firefighters, police officers, paramedics, EMTs, and other personnel involved in responding to medical emergencies and natural disasters, these individuals are faced with witnessing trauma every day, and may even become traumatized themselves.  A first responder’s job can be emotionally and physically exhausting, and may lead to serious mental health issues. Establishing healthy self-care habits is a great first line of defense in preventing poor mental health as a result of the unique challenges of a first responder’s career.  Additionally, knowledge of the importance of self-care can also help those in recovery from substance use disorders to maintain mental wellness and stay fit for the job.

Check in with Yourself

One of the first steps in mental health maintenance is creating a habit of regularly checking in with yourself and how you are feeling.  First responders live busy, often-chaotic lives, and they may go days or weeks without remembering to stop and take an emotional inventory.  This perpetual mental and physical inertia can cause you to lose touch with your emotions and neglect underlying issues that may need to be processed.  By checking in with yourself you can assess your mental state, identify negative emotions, determine what may be causing them, and make a plan to start feeling better as soon as possible.  Ignoring unpleasant feelings caused by excess stress and traumatic events only gives them more strength, so that eventually you become overwhelmed and unable to cope. Paying attention to your emotions prevents suppressed thoughts and memories from building up and becoming problematic in the future.

Stay Healthy

No matter how stressful life becomes, everything is easier to handle when you have a well-established foundation of healthy habits.  This means eating nutritious food, getting enough quality sleep, exercising regularly, and avoiding substance abuse. While everyone knows these are healthy behaviors, many people are unaware of how closely our mental and physical wellbeing is tied.  By taking care of your body, you are giving your mind the advantage of balance and cognitive efficiency, making it easier to process difficult emotions and manage stress. This connection also works in the opposite direction, meaning that allowing yourself to become overwhelmed with stress can have adverse physical effects on your body.  Try to refrain from thinking of a behavior as good for your body or good for your mind, and instead realize that all healthy habits are a part of taking care of the complete you.

Talk About It

First responders are often required to maintain a steady disposition in the face of great danger or tragedy, so much so, that they may continue to suppress their emotions in their personal lives and amongst coworkers.  Bottling up your emotions or avoiding discussing past trauma can be extremely detrimental to mental health. While talking about painful events and circumstances can be difficult, expressing yourself through conversation with a supportive friend, coworker, or therapist, is one of the most effective ways to heal.  Many first responders refrain from talking about their feelings at work because they worry they will be seen as weak or unfit for their job. The truth is that most first responders experience similar emotions and some form of secondary trauma at some point in their careers, and talking about it can help decrease the stigma.  Additionally, seeking professional help in the form of talk therapy may be necessary, and can help you to establish self-care routines that prevent unhealthy emotional suppression in the future.  

Avoid Negative Coping Habits

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on a holistic approach to wellness, many people turn to unhealthy and destructive coping mechanisms when struggling with mental health or experiencing immense stress.  For first responders, it is common to react to unaddressed trauma or symptoms of a mental health disorder by attempting to throw yourself even more fully into your work. Picking up extra shifts or constantly volunteering for the riskiest or most high-stress task is a sign that you may be struggling to cope with unprocessed emotions.  Additionally, many first responders turn to drugs or alcohol to remedy their emotional pain when they are unable to cope on their own. In these cases, seeking professional help for addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders is the best way to take back control of your health and happiness. 

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses.  We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult.

Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.  By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.