Caring for plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress

Caring for plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress

Did you know that caring for houseplants has the power to reduce physiological and psychological stress?

This may be good news for all plant enthusiasts out there or encouragement to a first responder looking to beautify their home or garden while enhancing mental and emotional health. 

“Researchers conducted a study on “how the interaction with indoor plants may reduce stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in adults. The research-study results concluded that active interaction with indoor plants can reduce both physiological and psychological stress; this is accomplished through suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity, diastolic blood pressure, and promotion of comfortable, natural feelings.”

Affinity Health

When a plant owner tends to their houseplant(s), all of their attention is focused on the plant and only the plant. 

Caring for a living being is second nature for first responders, so taking the time to water, trim, and rotate plants can be a very therapeutic process that relaxes your senses while your sole focus is on the plant. 

While there are so many science-backed benefits of houseplants, the amount of mental wellness opportunity they provide to the lives of humans is unparalleled. 

Here are the top five benefits plants have on mental health:

  • Plants can reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, and anxiousness
  • Houseplants can elevate productivity and boost creativity
  • Improve the quality of indoor air
  • Sharpen concentration and memory 

As many of you already understand, oftentimes, a reduced level of serotonin is linked to depression, which is why surrounding yourself with a few indoor plants is a solid test to undertake as plants can help trigger the same chemical response in our brain which releases serotonin. 

“A 2007 study found a bacterium in plant soil called Mycobacterium vaccae that triggers the release of serotonin, which lifts mood and reduces anxiety. Therefore, interaction with indoor or outdoor plants can alleviate symptoms of depression.”

Affinity Health

Plants provide a sense of calming energy, which can translate to a stronger sense of wellbeing. With all the data and evidence supporting houseplant’s impact on mental health, we recommend you try this tactic and see if it works for you. 

At First Responder Wellness, we guide 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 in the front lines. For more information on how we can assist you, call 888-443-4898. 

Discover the mental health benefits of reading

Discover the mental health benefits of reading

Sitting down with a good book is a pastime that far too often tends to fade away when our lives get busy and take a more complex route. 

There are so many great benefits reading has on mental health, including reduced stress, assisting with relaxation, builds up the brain, strengthens the ability to empathize, reduces symptoms of dementia, and so much more. 

Many people do not read because they simply do not have the time, and that is understandable. But, what if I told you this – you do not need to read for a long period of time or hours on end to gather the benefits that reading has on the mind. 

Even giving yourself three to 10 minutes per day to read, where you can let go of the focus on your life and step into a world where your mind is solely focused on the words printed across the paper of the book you’re reading, can help you find relief and peace during that short period of time; it is worth it. 

“Studies have shown that reading as little as 6 minutes per day can improve your quality of sleep, reduce stress, and sharpen mental acuity. Reading strengthens the neural circuits and pathways of our brain while lowering heart rate and blood pressure.”

Step Up for Mental Health

If you’re a person who doesn’t have a ton of time for reading, we highly recommend reading brief meditation books, where you can read a one-page passage per day, which may take anywhere between one and five minutes to complete. 

We believe reading can positively impact your life, so here is a meditation book we recommend just for you. 

The Daily Stoic

The Daily Stoic is a #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller written by Ryan Holiday to help us become more resilient, happier, virtuous, and wise. 

Now you may be thinking, what is stoicism? In short, stoicism is a branch of philosophy founded by Zeno in 3rd Century BC, which teaches the development of self-control and provides wisdom on becoming a clear and unbiased thinker. 

Inside The Daily Stoic, you’ll receive 366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living. All scriptures are between a half-page or one full page and have the power to give you a new perspective on life, encouraging you to be the best versions of yourself while letting go and being free of stress. 

Click HERE to listen to The Daily Stoic Podcast for FREE!

At First Responder Wellness, we guide 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 in the front lines. For more information on how we can assist you, call (888) 743-0490.

Navigate through compassion fatigue with these coping mechanisms

Navigate through compassion fatigue with these coping mechanisms

Did you know compassion fatigue is real? Well, it is, and it negatively impacts millions of first responders every year. 

Although this detriment is not typically life-threatening, it can be quite debilitating, just like any other mental health implication. 

Constantly being inserted into the line of duty, you are prone to exhaust compassion every single shift from serving the public and constantly putting the distressful needs of others before yours. 

Over time compassion fatigue can take a toll on a first responder and lead to emotional exhaustion. The exhaustion experienced results from high emotional involvement, such as working with traumatized individuals in the community without the mental support they deserve. 

First responders must be able to identify the symptoms of compassion fatigue for themselves and their colleagues. Getting ahead of the symptoms and finding ways to cope with compassion fatigue early on will save an elevated amount of distress in the long run. 

Some emotional symptoms you may be experiencing from compassion fatigue include: 

  • Feeling helpless and/or overwhelmed
  • Angry, irritable, and elevated anxiety
  • A reduced amount of empathy
  • Feeling insensitive or hypersensitive
  • Decreased tolerance for stress

Understanding and having the ability to pinpoint when your compassion is burnt out is a vital step towards a more positive mental health and overall wellness for first responders.

There are many tactics and coping mechanisms that you can start implementing into your life today if you’d like to counteract compassion fatigue. Some of these wellness tactics include: 

  • Having a balanced diet
  • Garnering regular exercise 
  • Adequate amount of sleep and rest
  • Taking deserved time off (use that PTO)
  • Setting emotional boundaries
  • Practicing mindful meditation and deep breathing
  • Strengthening social support from loved ones, friends, and colleagues

“SAMSHA recommends focusing on “four core components of resilience: adequate sleep, good nutrition, regular physical activity, and active relaxation. Unfortunately, many first responders are unaware of this kind of resiliency training and attempt to deal with their PTSD and compassion fatigue with self-medicating substances, most often alcohol.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 

Strengthening our mental wellbeing is an ongoing initiative in life. Our team at First Responder Wellness will continue shedding light on and providing first responders in our network and beyond valuable tips to make progress towards greater mental health. 

At First Responder Wellness, we guide 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 in the front lines. For more information on how we can assist you, call (888) 743-0490.

Deep breathing our way towards wellness

Deep breathing our way towards wellness

Did you know regularly practicing deep breathing can have a lasting impact on mental wellness?

Yes, something as simple as “breathing” has the healing qualities to alleviate stress, anxiety, heart palpitations, anxiousness, depression, and even help cope with post-traumatic stress. 

Creating a deep breathing routine and regularly implementing it into a small portion of your day will have a lasting positive impact by slowing the heart rate and stabilize blood pressure. 

“A flat stomach is considered attractive, so women (and men) tend to hold in their stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide; which can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.”

Harvard Medical School 

What is even greater about deep breathing is that it can be done anywhere and does not take much time to perform. 

You can literally practice deep breathing in your car, at your desk, in the shower, while out on a walk, making dinner, etc. Though, the best results come from actually integrating yourself in a quiet space, where you can focus the mind on your breath and truly allow yourself to understand how breath control is one of the very few things in this life that we have complete control over. 

As we mentioned, deep breathing is short and sweet. You can practice deep breathing for as little as one minute or for however long you’d like, although somewhere between five to 20 minutes is the ideal amount of time. 

Learning to relax can be tough, but by simply learning tactics like breathing in and breathing out, we’re sure it can help alleviate some of your symptoms. 

What is deep breathing?

So maybe you’ve heard of deep breathing but don’t exactly know what it is? Well, it basically means to breathe deeply. 

Deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing is performed when a person contracts their diaphragm, in and out, in a controlled manner. During this time, people tend to focus the mind on their breath to regulate thoughts.

When breathing in and breathing out, contracting the diaphragm, you are essentially reducing the amount of stress and tension built up in your body; and you can feel the shoulders begin to take a relaxed position.

“Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.”

Michigan Medicine 

How to perform deep breathing 

Deep breathing is one of the simplest, most cost-efficient, and effective mental wellness exercises with great benefits. To get you started, we recommend performing the following exercise for five minutes. Once you feel comfortable performing the exercise, gradually bump up the time to 10, 15, and 20 minutes. 

Follow the steps below to maximize the benefits of deep breathing:

  1. Find a spot to sit comfortably or lie down 
  2. Take a slow deep breath (inhale), which should last about five seconds
  3. Hold your breath in for about three seconds
  4. Exhale slowly and close your eyes (do not close your eyes if driving) 
  5. Repeat the cycle 

After the first inhale and exhale, really aim to focus your thoughts and mind on your breath. Simply giving your mind a break in the day to just “breathe” is so powerful and can have a lasting impact on your day and night. 

How first responders can navigate through survivor’s guilt

How first responders can navigate through survivor’s guilt

Survivor’s guilt is a difficult emotion to navigate through, especially for first responders, because they’re more inclined to experience a heightened amount of traumatic events compared to the general population. 

Feeling lucky to be alive is an emotion many of us might not associate with guilt. Some may not even realize they are experiencing it, or they struggle to recognize that the weight they are carrying alongside their grief is actually a sense of guilt. 

This feeling can manifest itself after a person experiences a loss or a traumatic event that develops post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI). This person may feel a sense of responsibility and are grappling with questions like, “Why did this happen? What could I have done differently? Why did I survive when others did not?” These inner questions can weigh incredibly heavy on a person who feels like they could’ve done something different to change or prevent the outcome.

When there’s an emergency, first responders are the ones heading to the action, actively trying to prevent the loss of life or a traumatic outcome. As you know, this puts them at a disproportionate risk of witnessing or being involved in situations that evoke these emotions. 

Survivor’s guilt takes the form of a military veteran wishing they could have done something more to save a fallen soldier or a firefighter feeling guilty about not being able to save a life while risking their own in the blaze of fire; these are just a couple of many examples of survivors guilt first responders are susceptible to. 

“The guilt of being alive after someone has died can create a sense of failure and loss of purpose, or drive someone to use substances as a means of coping. Learning to deal with survivor guilt and shame in a healthy way can help bring some healing and positive feelings to a first responder’s work and personal life.”

Strive Cares

With this challenging emotion ever so present in the lives of all first responders, it’s essential to understand the signs, symptoms and know how to turn your pain into power. 

Survivor’s guilt is complicated

Sometimes the mess of emotions that ensues after surviving a traumatic experience can be difficult to untangle and manage. Navigating through the various stages of grief while also struggling with survivor’s guilt can bring on complex emotions that feel overwhelming. Identifying what you’re feeling can help untangle these strands of emotions and allow you to start coping with them individually instead of trying to deal with them all at once.  

Once a person has identified what they’re feeling may be survivor’s guilt, coping with it can be just as complex. The nature of this emotion can often bring about thoughts that they did not deserve to survive when someone else did not. 

This can also translate to feelings that they do not deserve to receive help and live a happy, healthy life afterward when others cannot; this person may feel unworthy of experiencing relief. Keeping themselves in pain may make them feel like it makes up for the fact they survived when others did not, as if they owe the world something, and if they were to feel happy, it would be disrespectful. 

However, when people are stuck in this feeling of guilt, they may not realize that staying in this state of mind can be detrimental to their overall health. Everyone deserves an opportunity to live a happy, healthy life. 

Be aware of the signs

Some signs that indicate a person may be struggling with survivor’s guilt is if they’re expressing any of the following thoughts or making these comments after a traumatic event:

  • “I don’t deserve help when someone else needs it more than me.”
  • “I keep thinking if only I had…”
  • “I feel like there was more I could have done.” 
  • “I should have…”
  • “Why was I the one that survived?”
  • “I’m so angry at myself for not trying harder.” 
  • “How can I be happy when all those others who died cannot?”
  • “Why should I enjoy life experiences when they can’t?”

Symptoms first responders experience 

On top of having these thoughts, symptoms of survivor’s guilt can vary. Each individual may experience them differently and to varying degrees depending on the person and situation. Some indications a person may be experiencing survivor’s guilt fall similarly under many PTSI symptoms:

  • Flashbacks
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • A sense of hopelessness 
  • An intense feeling of fear
  • Stomachaches, headaches, and palpitations
  • A sense of unworthiness
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Let’s turn your pain into power 

There’s power in reimagining your pain. Showing some compassion to yourself instead of being overly critical of a situation you did not have complete control over can help you look at the traumatic event from a clearer perspective. 

For every thought or question that begins with why or how, answer it with a more compassionate response. You’re not to blame, so you should not have to bear the guilt or shame. Therefore, saying “I should have done something more” and flipping it to “I did the best I could” will provide some relief. 

Other coping tips that can be helpful to first responders include:

  • Think how the people who love you feel about your survival
  • Give yourself time to grieve
  • Talk with trusted loved ones about your feelings
  • Do something meaningful for someone
  • Practice self-care
  • Seek professional help

At First Responder Wellness, we share your desire to help others; we’re here to help you. If you or a loved one is showing signs of post-traumatic stress or survivor’s guilt, reach out to us at (888) 743-0490.