Coping Mechanisms for First Responders

Healthy Coping Mechanisms for First Responders

Published on November 10, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

As a first responder, every day on the job can be fraught with stressors. Over time, repeated exposure to potentially traumatic situations can have a lasting impact on your mental health and well-being. While it is your job to be on the frontline helping others, it is just as important to help yourself. Developing healthy coping mechanisms to implement after experiencing stressful events can help provide you with a sense of empowerment over your stressors.

It is important to understand that the feelings and emotions you may be experiencing as a first responder are not uncommon for your profession. By actively learning positive coping strategies and self-help tools, you are taking action and control over your well-being. How people respond to their stress can make the difference between long-lasting symptoms and manageable short-lived problems. Here are some healthy tools that you can utilize after experiencing high levels of stress or trauma and for continued self-care.

Social Support

Coping with your stress and trauma is not a job that you should have to face alone. Sometimes it is not one single event that puts you over the edge; instead, it can be an accumulation of built-up experiences that takes a toll on your body and mind. The cumulative effects of stressors can make it challenging to communicate what you feel or pinpoint when they started. 

Finding the right way to manage your stress can be difficult when it stems from so many varied experiences. When you may feel alone in your pain because you can’t define it, finding the right support group of trustworthy and understanding peers, friends, or family is vital. You need a safe space to share your feelings and thoughts. They may be able to help you find the right words or offer a safe space to listen to you.

In particular, finding peers who have had similar experiences as you may help you connect on a level you may need to feel deeply understood. They can provide support, valuable insight, and a degree of understanding unique to the first responders’ experiences. Although the elements of your trauma are individual, finding the similarities within your peers’ stories can help you understand that you are not alone.

Actively engaging in conversation and being open to talking about your experiences may be challenging at first. Still, you may come to find that it is a real source of empowerment that can help you move forward into a more healthy lifestyle.

Mindfulness Practice

Owning your experiences can help you feel more in control over your thoughts, rather than the other way around. Practicing mindfulness requires you to acknowledge what you are experiencing mentally and physically. While facing emotions, memories, and bodily sensations that stem from traumatic experiences can elicit painful reactions, a recent study conducted on first responders’ coping mechanisms shows that it is a beneficial undertaking. The study reports that relying solely on avoidance techniques and always ignoring those uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that should be worked through can be maladaptive. Overall, it results in poorer mental health compared to when one incorporates strategies such as mindfulness.

Some ways you can practice mindfulness include deep breathing exercises, meditating, and grounding yourself in the moment. Over time, mindfulness can help develop your self-awareness. When you are sitting in the middle of an affliction and questioning which feels more real to you — your distress or yourself, mindfulness can unearth the awareness that you are here, right now, and you are more than what may be troubling you.  

Exercise

Many people know that getting regular exercise is essential for physical health, but some may forget that it is also crucial for mental health. Remaining active can also be a healthy coping mechanism. Implementing regular exercise into your routine can help improve concentration and alertness, reduce fatigue, and enhance cognitive function. This can be helpful when stress has caused you to feel mentally drained. 

Stress does not only affect the brain; it has the potential of impacting the rest of your body as well. Sometimes people carry stress in their bodies. To reduce this physical tension, exercising, stretching, taking deep breaths, and walking can help release bodily stress. Coping with your stress by being physically active can help you enhance your physical and mental performance. As the body and mind are inextricably linked, it stands to reason that when your body feels better, so does your mind. 

To continue helping others, first responders must also make sure to take care of themselves. Implementing healthy coping mechanisms into your daily life can help you improve the mental agility needed to succeed on the job. Those who have had repeated exposure to stressors and traumatic events may turn to quick fixes such as substance use to provide temporary relief. In the long run, this form of coping causes more harm than good. However, finding the right resources to manage your stress is not a job you have to face alone. At First Responders Wellness, we understand the disproportionate amount of stress, trauma, and hardship those in the public safety profession experience. We provide first responders with a confidential and trusted community of others who have lived and experienced a similar life while giving you the right tools to effectively develop healthy coping mechanisms. Give us a call today to learn more about our resources at (888) 743-0490.