First responders include police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other service providers who arrive first on the scene of emergencies, crime scenes, environmental disasters, terrorist attacks and more. Over the last few years, the world has become especially aware of the significant role that first responders play in upholding the fabric of society. People in helping professions often care for people in crisis, witness traumatic events repeatedly and are required to be on-guard for extended periods of time. This can lead to mental health struggles that can impact their lives and the lives of the people they care about like friends and family.

Mental wellbeing is important for everyone, but it’s important to acknowledge that frontline workers may and often do require a different level of care because of the nature of their professions. Consciously developing a strategy to help offset the increased exposure to trauma that first responders face can make a world of difference in their ability to cope with stress that comes with the job. 

1. Schedule regular daily activity 

Whether it’s going for a walk, lifting some weights or taking a yoga class, exercise has immense benefits for mental health. On an outward level, focusing on physical activities at hand can help take your mind off of work related experiences. On a physiological level, it increases important chemicals like serotonin and dopamine which can help with focus and increase feelings of joy. 

2. Be mindful of your diet 

Studies have shown a direct correlation between diet and our body’s ability to cope with conditions like anxiety, stress and depression. Here are a few interesting facts about how dietary habits can impact mental health: 

  • Iron deficiencies can cause, or emphasize, feelings of depression, and fatigue. Some healthy foods that are high in iron include spinach, legumes, pumpkin seeds, turkey, quinoa and shellfish. And if you have a sweet tooth, reach for some dark chocolate. 
  • Blood sugar spikes and crashes can contribute to anxiety. To avoid mood swings related to glucose spikes, eat three balanced meals a day.  
  • Fiber intake has been linked to a decrease in post-traumatic stress. Studies found that people who consumed 3 servings of fiber a day were less likely to experience PTS. Good sources of fiber include berries, whole grains, brown rice, and avocados.  

3. Learn to practice mindfulness 

Mindfulness exercises focus on keeping you in the present moment which can be helpful especially when you have experienced a traumatic event. These exercises can bring you back from memories and flashbacks. Some activities like yoga and meditation incorporate mindfulness, but these are only a few ways to engage in the practice. Something as simple as focusing on your breathing can have a grounding effect that can calm your nervous system and help your mind relax. 

4. Spend time in nature 

Spending time outdoors is proven to be incredibly beneficial for our nervous system and spending time on or near water has been proven to be even more beneficial than being in green spaces. Whether it’s the beach, a lake, the forest or a park, getting outdoors for even 10 minutes a day can improve your overall physical and mental health. 

5. Learn to set boundaries 

Learn how to say “no” or “not right now”. First responders often have extremely demanding schedules, especially early on in their careers. Understand that it is okay, and quite frankly a necessity, to take time off or to decline an extra shift when you are struggling with mental health.  

6. Find a hobby you enjoy 

It can be painting, reading or anything really that sparks joy for you. Developing a hobby gives us something to look forward to.  

7. Talk to someone 

This can be hard for anyone, but especially for those who feel their career might be impacted by disclosing struggles with mental health. Talking about how you feel is important. If you are struggling with mental health it is important to speak with a medical professional. 

Heroes on the Water is dedicated to supporting the many veterans and first responders, and their families who passionately support our communities. Our nationwide chapters hold kayaking fishing events that provide spaces for our heroes to relax and reconnect, enhance inner peace, and build camaraderie with other individuals who have similar experiences in nature.
Your donation, no matter how small, supports our brave men and women who run toward danger when the rest of us run away. Give the gift of peace and donate today.

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