First responders and veterans encounter more threats, danger, and trauma than most people will ever know. This consistent onslaught of stress causes mental, emotional and physical overwhelm, and can lead to debilitating health problems.
At Pause First, we are teaching first responders how to lessen the effects of stress and trauma by encouraging them to integrate mini mindfulness practices into each day.
It starts with self-awareness
In our 4-hour course called Learn to Pause, we discuss two aspects of mindful awareness; present moment awareness and self-awareness. We explain that in order for a person to develop the ability to regulate their own internal state, they must first become familiar with what they are experiencing mentally, emotionally and physically. This is self-awareness.
Students learn that with some practice, they can begin to notice when they are entering or have entered a detrimental state of being, and they can take steps to internally regulate and balance that state of being.
We encourage our students to start by periodically analyzing themselves throughout each day and observe how they are feeling and what’s going on internally.
A pervading theme among first responder professions is, “Suck it up, buttercup.” Meaning, no matter what is happening to you or how you’re feeling, stay quiet and press on. Don’t complain and don’t show weakness. So, first responders are programmed to mentally override mental and emotional pain, and just keep going.
Mentally overriding pain and suffering might work temporarily, but it’s not a healthy, rational, or long-term solution. In fact, it’s a dangerous prescription for a traumatized demographic, and it’s quite literally killing people.
The stress response
The stress response is your body’s reaction to a threat or traumatic event. When the stress response is turned on, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, and you go into “fight or flight” mode. When this happens frequently or persistently, it can cause anxiety and other mental and emotional problems. To offset the potential damage to one’s health, steps can be taken to regulate the system and calm the stress response.
Breathing techniques and mindfulness are widely accepted as legitimate stress regulation tools. In our classes, we are teaching first responders to use this simple Learn to Pause℠ mindfulness exercise we call “The 3 Bs.”
There are 3 steps to this exercise:
Step 1, Breathe
Inhale through your nose, slowly, deeply and fully. Then exhale through your nose, focusing on slowing the breathing down and making the exhale slightly longer than the inhale. Repeat, over and over.
Don’t get too hung up on the specific instructions. If breathing through your nose is uncomfortable, you may breathe through your mouth, but do concentrate on slowing your breathing down, keeping it steady, and breathing deeply.
Step 2, Body
As you breathe, start to notice how the breath feels in your body. Notice the expansion of your mid-section as you inhale. Listen. Can you hear yourself breathing? Observe. Can you detect a slowing down? Are your muscles beginning to relax? What’s going on in your body?
If focusing in this manner is difficult for you, try focusing on your body in a different way. Try this. Allow your attention to drift down to your feet. Wiggle your toes and become fully aware of your feet. All there is to do in this moment is breathe and work on holding your awareness on your feet. To help you maintain this awareness, you can gently wiggle your toes or alternate lifting your toes up and pressing them into the floor.
Step 3, Be
Now, just be with this process for a bit. Just breathe and be. Gently hold your attention on breathing and body awareness. Continue until you begin to feel things slowing down, your breathing becomes steady, and you feel a little more balanced and relaxed.
Use The 3 Bs any time you feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious. Mindful practices such as this can provide stress relief, mental clarity, and the ability to respond more healthfully to the stressors of a taxing and traumatic profession. And they don’t require a big investment of time. This exercise can be done anyplace, anytime, and in a matter of just a few seconds, or a couple of mindful minutes.