By Nicholas Greco, M.S., BCETS, CATSM, FAAETS, Chair of the International Public Safety Association’s Mental Health and Wellness Committee
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought higher levels of stress along with heightened anxiety. While emergency responders and healthcare professionals may be more resilient than others, they still need to be mindful of their own stress and anxiety. Prolonged stress and anxiety levels can lead to feelings of depression, especially during the fall and winter months. Therefore, the importance of recognizing and maintaining one’s mental health and overall well-being cannot be stressed enough.
Here are some quick and useful tips for emergency responders and healthcare providers to help reduce anxiety:
- Let’s get physical: The simple act of going for a walk can help to clear your mind, renew your spirit and refresh your body. Working out, yoga, dancing, walking or jogging can help to lower your stress hormones and release endorphins which help to improve your mood.
- Hold the caffeine: While coffee, teas, sodas and power drinks taste good and give you a boost, they can also dehydrate you and increase your anxiety levels. Realistically, you may not be able to cut out caffeine completely but try to substitute with non-sweetened flavored waters or make your own. Simply cut up some lemon slices and add to your water bottle. It will help keep you hydrated and refreshed rather than depleted.
- Journaling. While it may be difficult to talk about what you are feeling with others, writing it down serves two purposes. First, you empower yourself to take control of your anxiety and by doing so you begin to process your thoughts. Secondly, journaling helps to highlight what you are grateful for and helps you discover the many positives in your life. Learn more about additional journaling benefits.
- Step Back. Some people know what buttons to push to get a reaction from us. Before you respond to a person, or even an email or text message, give yourself time to process and reflect what you want to say before saying it out of emotion. If you can, count to ten, walk away, or if you do need to respond immediately, remember that their negative emotion does not have to be yours, so don’t take it personal. Sleeping on it helps.
- Sleep. Speaking of sleep, no matter what, sleep is essential to our physical and mental health. Inadequate sleep not only is a hazard to you on the job, but to your health. Ideally, you should try to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
- Try Something New. Starting a new hobby like woodworking, knitting, learning a new instrument, learning a foreign language and cooking or baking are terrific ways to disconnect and reduce anxiety. Sourdough anyone?
- Accept Imperfection. There’s no need to take everything so seriously, and remember not to sweat the small stuff. Realize that there are things you cannot and should not control. This is a time to reflect on what is important and what you can make a difference in.
- Learn to Say No. Easier said than done, but it needs to be done. Start by reducing or eliminating projects and things which are causing you anxiety. You cannot take on everything. Learning to say no will reduce your stress and anxiety levels.
- Stay Organized. Procrastination and playing catch up only adds to stress and anxiety. Making lists with realistic deadlines and goals to get things done will help you to stay focused and organized while reducing procrastination.
- Laugh, Listen, Learn. Watching funny TV shows, movies and comedy specials can raise your mood and lower your anxiety. Joking with friends and family not only keeps you connected but helps you to share what you both find entertaining. Listening to relaxing music you enjoy will lower your anxiety as will learning about something of interest (e.g. documentaries, how things are made).
- The Power of Touch. A hug, cuddling, a pat on the shoulder and kissing are positive physical contacts which reduce our stress and anxiety levels. Let’s not forget about the power of pets.
- Talk to Someone. If you find yourself unable to talk with friends or family or simply want to seek out greater peace in your life, make an appointment with a trained therapist.
About the Author
NICHOLAS GRECO IV, M.S., B.C.E.T.S., C.A.T.S.M., F.A.A.E.T.S., is President and Founder of C3 Education and Research, Inc. Nick has over 20 years of experience training civilians and law enforcement. He has authored over 325 book reviews, presented globally on over 400 professional presentations, workshops, and in-services, and authored or co-authored numerous articles and text supplements in psychiatry and psychology. He is a subject matter expert for PoliceOne/Lexipol and Axon as well as a CIT trainer for the Chicago Police Department and the State of Illinois. Nick is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), IACP, IPSA, and CIT International, as well as Committee Chair for the IPSA Mental Health Committee. Nick can be reached at by visiting his website http://www.c3educationandresearch.com/ or emailing him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org