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.”
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:
Find a spot to sit comfortably or lie down
Take a slow deep breath (inhale), which should last about five seconds
Hold your breath in for about three seconds
Exhale slowly and close your eyes (do not close your eyes if driving)
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.
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.”
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:
A sense of hopelessness
An intense feeling of fear
Stomachaches, headaches, and palpitations
A sense of unworthiness
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
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.
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
“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.
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.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy is a hands-on cathartic and experiential therapy modality known to help people cope with PTSD, anxiety, substance abuse, and more. This form of therapy is best in addition to traditional therapy for those who love being around animals and enjoy spending time outdoors.
Did you know that horses have senses powerful enough to understand how a client is feeling? With this type of therapy, everyday situations and struggles are applied to equine-assisted psychotherapy process groups. This hands-on approach to therapy utilizes the Eagala Model. This activity-based program subconsciously creates a challenge the client is facing in life, allowing them to work through the equestrian challenge and figure out a healthy coping strategy and resolution.
With interpretation, clients can experience the horse’s actions and apply the scenarios to their own life. This, in turn, affects how the client handles social interaction with others, conflict resolution, relationships, motivation for change situations, and much more, all while in the great outdoors.
“This eagala model integrates therapy and hands-on activities that promote essential skills such as emotional regulation, responsibility, and self-confidence; simply engaging with the horse in an activity based session…by leading, grooming, and feeding it, with a therapist present,” said Tiffany Atalla, FRW Therapist.
This form of therapy would be perfect for those who may be apprehensive about pouring out their emotions to a therapist, as it only requires a client to commune with the horses. These beautiful animals can sense and respond to the client’s emotions and relay them back to both the client and the therapist.
Equine-assisted psychotherapy is recommended for both men, women, teens, and children of most ages, as long as they are old enough to walk.
What is the Eagala Model?
The Eagala Model is proven effective because it embraces the science that people learn best by doing. This model allows for a hands-on approach where clients are provided space to project and analyze their life situations, forge connections, and find a positive solution or a coping strategy. Since the solutions are personally experienced in conjunction with intellectual understanding, they tend to be deeper, profound, and longer-lasting when compared to other forms of therapy.
How does it work?
The Eagala Model is a team approach that includes a licensed, credentialed mental health professional, a qualified equine specialist, and horses working together with the client in an arena at all times.
When inside the arena, all the work is done on the ground with the horses front and center, deliberately unhindered and never ridden, and allowed to interact with the client as they wish. This creates the space for the client, with the support of the professional facilitators, to reflect, project, and make deep connections.
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.