First responders are on the front lines every day, helping to care for others. But what about their own mental health? There are many ways we can take care of ourselves when we’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, and it helps us perform better at our jobs and lives. We’ll talk about some of these things, from having a strong support system to documenting positive experiences.
Have a Strong Support System
Having a strong support system is essential to maintaining mental health, especially in emergency situations. You and other first responders can have each other’s backs, either by talking or just by being in the same room. By doing this, it helps you feel better when you’re having a difficult time.
If you don’t have a good support system or need more people to add to it, here are some tips:
- Talk with your friends about what they’re dealing with as well as what they would like from their own support system. You may find that there are things they’re comfortable sharing and things that are too private for them to share just yet. This will help determine whether someone is ready for therapy (if needed) and whether their needs align with yours.
- Make sure everyone knows how much space everyone else needs during any given situation. This will help prevent conflict among members of the group going forward.
Maintain Your Sense of Humor
Maintaining a sense of humor is a great way to cope with tough times. Humor can help you feel better and connect with others. It also helps you manage stress by releasing endorphins and dopamine, chemicals that make us feel good.
Many people enjoy being funny, whether they’re sharing jokes or making people laugh at something they say or do. You might try making a joke when talking with co-workers, cracking up over silly stories with friends, or laughing at silly videos online. When we keep our sense of humor and find time to laugh, some of the stress of work, family, etc., can be lifted off our shoulders.
Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is one of the most important things you can do to help yourself. However, self-care is not just about taking time off from work, although that can be a great start. It’s also about making sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. Even if you don’t have time for a massage or spa day, try to schedule some alone time where you can relax for a few minutes at least once per day.
Document the Good Stuff
This is a simple activity that can help boost your mood and remind you of the power of positivity. It can even be as easy as just keeping a journal or writing in a notebook every day when something good happens to you. For example, you may get an unexpected compliment from someone or watch your favorite TV show.
Documenting the good things in your life forces you to reflect on what happened and focus on positive experiences instead of negative ones. This will help make sure no matter what else happens during the day, there’s at least one thing that makes you happy.
Find a Hobby
In addition to staying in touch with your mental health team and visiting a counselor or therapist, finding an enjoyable hobby can be helpful in maintaining mental health as a first responder. If you’re trying out new hobbies while dealing with mental health struggles, it’s important that the activity is something you enjoy and are good at doing. It can be something that you do alone or with other people, like a sport or craft.
If you’re not sure about what types of hobbies might be best for you, check out some options below:
- Crafting: woodwork/carpentry, sewing, pottery, painting (acrylics), drawing (pencil/charcoal), mixed media collage work such as collaging paper items onto canvas boards using glue sticks & paints)
- Nature: walks/hikes, camping trips away from civilization
Taking Care of You While Taking Care of Others
On a day-to-day basis, it can be difficult to find the time and energy to take care of yourself. However, there are ways that you can extend self-care beyond your own routines: by helping others. This can be as simple as volunteering for an organization or as involved as taking on a leadership role. It might involve donating money or goods. You could also do something kind for a stranger or one of your friends or pay it forward with an act of kindness that benefits another person.
It’s important to remember that you can take care of your own mental health while also helping others. Research shows that volunteering is a great way to improve both your physical and mental health.
That said, there are plenty of ways to get involved in the community outside of work without committing yourself to a regular schedule. If you’re interested in volunteering but aren’t sure how or where to start, reach out. There are many organizations that could use your help, and they would love nothing more than to know someone cares enough about their cause to lend them their time and energy.
As a first responder, you see things no one else does. As a result, your mental health may suffer. It’s important to remember that the most important thing you can do is be kind to yourself, especially during stressful times. You deserve to feel good about yourself and have a positive outlook on life. Acera Health is here to help first responders who are struggling with their mental health. We provide various evidence-based treatments to help those with trauma or other mental health struggles at various levels of care, including residential treatment and outpatient services. For more information on Acera Health and our programs designed for first responders, call us today at (949) 647-4090.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.