Burnout is a state of mind characterized by emotional and mental exhaustion. When someone develops burnout in the workplace, they may begin to perform poorly, develop a cynical outlook, and struggle to cope with stress. While burnout can happen in any profession, first responders are especially susceptible due to the intensely stressful nature of their jobs. Even those who are passionate about their careers must be aware of the possibility of burnout. It’s also necessary to take preventative measures to avoid burnout and understand when to seek professional help.
As a first responder, it can be easy to fall into a cycle of overachieving because many first responders are naturally motivated and goal-oriented people. While achievement and productivity are highly rewarded in our culture, it is essential to remember that your success is not only measured by your professional accomplishments. Real success also means finding a way to balance different facets of your life. In addition to work, you should enjoy healthy relationships and pursue outside hobbies and interests. Ideally, work should only occupy one-third of your time and energy in life. If you feel like it is adding up to much more than that, you may be lacking balance. Demanding too much of yourself at work will eventually backfire, causing burnout and making you perform poorly on the job. If you find your mind is always on work, even during other activities, a therapist may be able to help. Therapy can help you relax and foster growth in other areas of your life. Many first responders avoid seeking professional mental health treatment because of the stigma associated with asking for help. It is important to remember that your ability to perform in your role depends on your mental wellness. Seeking help when you need it is the most responsible choice you can make for yourself and the people you work to serve and protect.
Research has found that one of the most important aspects of preventing burnout is the creation and maintenance of close relationships with coworkers, friends, and family. You must enjoy the company of your colleagues and feel that you can trust them. Additionally, you should be able to open up to at least one coworker when you have had a hard day, knowing that they will listen and support you. As a first responder, your coworkers are often the only people who can genuinely understand the stressors of your job. Fostering healthy relationships at work can help prevent isolation and help you to feel that you are being seen and heard.
Additionally, it is equally important to maintain close relationships with people outside of your profession. First responders are susceptible to the development of a cynical perspective. They may begin to feel like they can only relate to others in their field. Keeping friendships with people in other careers can help you to keep an open mind and a positive outlook on life. While you may sometimes need to talk about your day on the job, there will be times when you need to talk about anything but work. You must keep lines of communication available to yourself in both spheres of your social life.
Though we are not always consciously aware of the complexities of the mind-body connection, the effects are undeniable. Taking care of your mind prevents many physical health issues, and taking care of your body encourages a healthy mind. You can create a healthy routine for your mind by practicing meditation and mindfulness. While these techniques were once thought of as strictly spiritual practices, they are now recognized as a legitimate means to cope with stress and improve focus and clarity. Additionally, you will be far more prepared to deal with the stress of work and prevent burnout if your body is physically healthy. Exercise daily, eat balanced and regular meals, stay hydrated, and make sure you are getting enough sleep. All of these habits can fall by the wayside when you are feeling overwhelmed at work. Maintaining a strong foundation of physical health, even during difficult times, is critical to your mental wellbeing. It is also important to avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as substance abuse. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to numb emotional and physical pain. As a result, those struggling with professional burnout are at an increased risk of addiction. If you think you may be using substances to cope with the stress of the job, it may be time to seek professional help.
The First Responders Treatment Program 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. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career. Nor do you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships. If you or someone you love is struggling, call us now at 888-443-4898.
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.
Did you know post traumatic stress disorder can be treated successfully with Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)? According to EMDR Institute Inc., some of the studies conducted on EMDR prove that 84 percent to 90 percent of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.
Now, you may have heard of this phenomenon, or you may be thinking, “What the heck is EMDR?”
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a form of therapy that combines talk therapy, deep breathing, and bilateral stimulation of the brain’s left and right meridian. The overlying basis of EMDR is to reprocess the brain by desensitizing and separating a traumatic event from the emotions associated with it.
This form of therapy utilizes eye movement, a state similar to rapid eye movement. The therapists will waive an object back and forth in which the client is required to follow with both eyes, thus distracting the client and making it easier for them to share their traumatic event. As the client is able to successfully communicate the traumatic event and realize that they are safe, it desensitizes negative emotions away from the event.
“After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings.”
EMDR Institute Inc.
For example, this therapy could eliminate negative emotions a young adult feels towards hospitals after experiencing their sibling die in a hospital. Once the person disassociates the fearful emotions from the experience, they’ll be able to tell themselves, “Not everyone who goes to a hospital dies.” The talk therapy and deep breathing combined with bilateral stimulation aid heavily in the client’s own intellectual and emotional self-realization to successfully treat PTSD.
What to Expect in an EMDR Therapy Session?
If it’s your very first therapy session, you’ll have a few minutes to get to know your therapist, and feel free to ask them questions about their own experiences with EMDR.
Relaxation and breathing exercises are taught ahead of the first therapy session and help clients focus while sharing difficult memories and trauma.
A client should be prepared to discuss their childhood as EMDR sessions begin by briefly learning about the history of the client’s life and upbringing.
At the beginning of each therapy session, one can expect a therapist to ask, “What memory would you like to work on today?” Or they may ask a client about any negative beliefs they have and traumatic events.
Once the client becomes acquainted with the therapist and understands the post-traumatic stress the client is experiencing, the desensitization process begins.
The desensitization process begins with being asked to think of the traumatic event while practicing the breathing techniques learned at the beginning of the session.
As the client is thinking about the traumatic event and breathing deeply, they will also be asked to follow the object or the light with their eyes and express how they feel about the traumatic event.
The entire EMDR therapy experience helps clients reprocess thoughts and desensitize emotions, successfully treating over 80 percent of participants suffering from PTSD.
The art of surviving starts with having a survivor’s mindset. Look at survivors’ stories; their mental traits are a central part of what enabled them to endure their situations.
If you have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event or have a cumulation of traumatic experiences, you’re a survivor. However, sometimes it may not feel that way. After experiencing a traumatic event, it can be easy to adopt a victim mentality. One may negatively perceive themselves as a victim of tragedy or trauma. They may not realize the negative impact that this type of mindset can have on their overall well-being.
First responders who are repeatedly exposed to stressful events may start to develop self-defeating emotions such as anger, resentment, guilt, or shame; they may even start using substances to escape these feelings. On the other hand, adopting a survivor mentality and employing psychological survival tactics can be much more advantageous to any person’s health and well-being.
Stop the victim mentality
Carrying a mindset of self-defeating thoughts may leave one with a sense of powerlessness. However, something that happened to a person does not reflect who they are; it doesn’t define them. Here’s a list of phrases that need to STOP today to stray away from the victim mentality:
- “I should have known better.”
- “I deserved it, and I deserve to feel this way.”
- “Why does this always happen to me?”
- “I am to blame.”
- “Bad things keep happening to me.”
Strengthening survivor mentality
Now, here’s the good part, the part we all need to focus on. A survivor mentality is a frame of mind that promotes self-empowerment and a person’s ability to overcome a traumatic event. Focusing on the ability to survive rather than being a victim can help prevail over life’s challenges instead of being held back or defined by them. This mentality recognizes and celebrates resiliency and strength over helplessness.
Here are a few mantras; say these to yourself to assist in developing a survivor mentality:
- “I am a survivor.”
- “I am resilient.”
- “This doesn’t define me, and I can adapt.”
- “I am a survivor of trauma; therefore, I know I can overcome future challenges.”
Tactics for psychological survival
The foundation of developing a survivor mentality and maintaining mental health is realizing you can do something and you have something worth fighting for. During a crisis or when experiencing challenging times, it’s key to remember to keep a positive attitude. A key to staying positive is to focus on how you can get better rather than focusing on how hard life is.
Remember to stay motivated. Being driven to change, improve, and learn new things can help you realize the power you have over your own life and understand that you are not helpless. In times of crisis, showing yourself compassion by treating yourself with the same kindness you would treat a loved one is crucial to overcoming self-defeating thoughts.
Keep in mind that nothing is permanent, not even pain. Hardships will end, and you can make it out to the other side. Instead of focusing on the gravity and immense scope of it all, focus on the fact that it will end. Lastly, continue mindfulness and reinforce mantras as these tactics can help ground you in the present instead of worrying about what happened or what is to come; have a handful of positive mantras ready, like the ones listed above.
People often create resolutions at the beginning of each new year, and many people see their primary goal as getting into better shape. While COVID-19 restrictions prevented so many of us from exercising indoors throughout 2020, people turned to the great outdoors for their workouts, which encompasses far more benefits anyway.
“Green exercise” refers to physical exercise undertaken in natural environments. Going for a hike through the forest, running along the beach, biking through your neighborhood, or even walking through the park can provide a mental health boost beyond that of indoor gyms. Exercising outdoors can connect you to nature while also strengthening your body in a way that exercising inside a gym cannot.
Staying physically fit is essential for those in the first responder community as this job often demands a lot of exertion. Remaining healthy can also help prevent physical injury and mental injury as it is a beneficial coping mechanism to maintain mental wellness.
The Role of the Great Outdoors
As with regular exercise, being in green and natural spaces has largely been regarded as beneficial to health. Being within nature provides a sense of escape from daily life when our lives are so centered around technology, driving, and being indoors. Experiencing nature often does not require the same direct attention as interacting with technology. This is what may give nature its restorative properties, allowing us to recover from mental fatigue.
With this rise of technological advances comes the decrease in the need to exercise outdoors and the increased use of indoor gyms, sports halls, and at-home exercise equipment. However, finding time to exercise in any type of natural space has a multitude of benefits.
Some benefits of green exercise include:
- Motivation – For example, people tended to walk faster with greater physiological discomfort for indoor training than outdoor. This suggests that they perceive exercise to be less demanding when performed outdoors or in a natural environment.
- Physiological health – Physiological health benefits include heart rate, blood pressure, and endocrine markers, including noradrenaline, adrenaline, and cortisol measures of stress.
- Mental health – Outdoor exercise can also be seen as a natural antidepressant that can potentially help fight off seasonal affective disorder, depression, and anxiety because sunlight naturally increases serotonin, a hormone that lifts your mood. Exposure to sunlight also increases vitamin D levels, which is linked to better health.
- Increased social levels – Participating in physical activity outdoors could encourage people to engage in social activity simultaneously, such as having a walking buddy, playing a recreational sport, or including the family on a hike or bike ride. These can be better solutions to improving physical and mental wellness instead of staying indoors all the time.
Exercising in natural environments may provide some of the best well-rounded health benefits by increasing motivation, increasing physical and mental health, reducing stress, restoring mental fatigue, and even improving moods. Exercise within green spaces may be beneficial for first responders who experience a disproportionate amount of stress levels as it can provide opportunities to find valuable social engagement with others and elevate positive mental health.
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.