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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Douglas

First Responder Wellness Tips: Taking Care of Your Emotional, Mental, and Physical Wellness

Updated: Jan 10



First responders are expected to act fast and process later when dealing with emergencies. But, the stigma of a first responder being the “helper” who then asks for help can be a barrier to seeking much-needed help.

Now, more than ever, first responders need access to wellness resources that can help them navigate the physical, mental, and emotional toll of being first on every traumatic scene.

In this guide, we explore first responder well-being and share our top tips for prioritizing first responder wellness.


Table of Contents



What Is First Responder Well-Being?


First responder well-being refers to the physical, mental, and emotional health and resilience of individuals who work in professions that are among the first to arrive and provide assistance at:

● The scene of emergencies

● Disasters; and

● Other critical incidents

This group typically includes firefighters, police officers, emergency medical personnel, paramedics, and other emergency services personnel.

First responders often face unique challenges and stressors in their line of work, which can take a toll on their well-being.

At Siento, we believe the first step to improving first responder wellness is to end the mental health stigma often associated with these professions.

Our first responder wellness app is dedicated to providing a safe and non-judgemental peer-to-peer support platform where first responders and other individuals in high-stress industries can share their struggles and feelings openly.

With Siento, you’re never alone.


Physical Well-Being


As a first responder, you must maintain physical fitness and health to effectively perform your duties. You’ll typically undergo rigorous training to ensure you are in good physical condition to handle the demands of your job, such as lifting heavy equipment or performing physically demanding rescues.

Ways to Improve Physical Well-Being


To stay on their A-game, first responders should consider all aspects of physical well-being, not just exercise. In addition to maintaining a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise and strength training each week, first responders should also:

Emotional Well-Being


First responders must develop emotional resilience to cope with the stress and emotional toll of their work. This includes learning to manage their emotions and build coping mechanisms to handle the challenges they face.

Ways to Improve Emotional Well-Being


Emotional well-being is a personal journey, and it’s normal to experience ups and downs, especially for first responders. Improving emotional well-being is essential for first responders to lead a fulfilling and balanced life before, during, and after every shift.

Some ways to enhance emotional well-being include:

  • Practice self-awareness: Understand your own emotions, triggers, and reactions.

  • Mindfulness and meditation: Practicing mindfulness can help you stay present and reduce stress, while meditation can help you build emotional resilience.

  • Express your emotions: Don’t bottle up your feelings. Talking to someone you trust, writing in a journal, or sharing your feelings in a peer support group can help ease the burdens of the job.

  • Maintain healthy relationships: Cultivating strong and supportive social connections with friends and family is the cornerstone of emotional well-being.

  • Set boundaries: It’s okay to protect your emotional energy. Learn to say no when necessary and prioritize self-care.

  • Practice gratitude and positive thinking: Regularly reflecting on the things you're grateful for and reminding yourself of the positive aspects of all situations can improve your emotional outlook on life.

Mental Well-Being


The nature of the work exposes first responders to traumatic events, which can lead to conditions like:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Depression; and

  • Anxiety

Promoting good mental health and providing access to mental health resources is crucial for first responder wellness.


Ways to Improve Mental Well-Being

Taking steps to improve your mental health, even when you’re not feeling low, can significantly contribute to your overall health and quality of life. Here are a few ways you can enhance your mental well-being as a first responder:

  • Practice self-care: Prioritize activities that nurture your mental health, like taking time for relaxation and personal interests.

  • Manage stress levels: Techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga can help manage stress effectively.

  • Set realistic goals: Break down your goals into manageable steps to reduce feelings of overwhelm and boost your sense of accomplishment.

  • Limit screen time: Excessive digital exposure can contribute to stress and anxiety.

  • Engage in hobbies: Pursuing activities that you’re passionate about can provide a sense of mental fulfillment.

  • Seek professional help: If you’re dealing with persistent mental health issues, consult a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist for support, therapy, or medication if needed.


Do First Responders Have Mental Health Issues?

Approximately 30% of first responders will experience mental health issues as a result of the unique challenges and stressors they face in their line of work. Exposure to traumatic events, life-threatening situations, and the constant demand for quick decision-making can take a toll on their mental well-being.

The stigma surrounding mental health in these professions can sometimes make it challenging for them to seek help, which can exacerbate these issues.

Recognizing the prevalence of mental health challenges among first responders, many organizations and agencies are addressing and mitigating these issues by providing:

  • Mental health resources

  • Peer support programs; and

  • Specialized training

Prioritizing the mental health of first responders is not only crucial for their own well-being but also for their ability to continue providing effective and compassionate emergency services to the communities they serve.

What Is the Best Type of Therapy for First Responders?

The best type of therapy for first responders often depends on their individual needs and the specific mental health challenges they are facing. However, some therapeutic approaches have shown particular effectiveness for this population. The best approach often involves a combination of therapies tailored to the individual's needs.

It's essential for first responders to work with mental health professionals who understand the unique stressors and experiences associated with their profession or to speak with their peers in the same field.

Confidentiality and trust established between the therapist and the first responder are crucial for effective therapy. Ultimately, the choice of therapy should be made collaboratively with the therapist and take into account the specific challenges and goals of the individual first responder.


Psychological Therapies


Various psychological therapies can be effective in helping first responders cope with negative job-related experiences and address mental health issues.

Here are some of the psychological therapies commonly used for first responders:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors and equips individuals with coping strategies.

  • Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) helps first responders who are facing trauma to stop avoiding the memories and gradually process them instead.

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) involves a structured eight-phase approach to process distressing memories and alleviate associated symptoms.

  • Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with education about the effects of trauma.

  • Critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) provides a structured and safe environment for first responders to discuss the traumatizing event and its impact.

The choice of therapy will depend on the individual's specific needs, preferences, and the nature of their mental health concerns.


Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies, such as psychedelics, have gained attention in recent years as potential tools for mental health support and therapy. Research into their therapeutic use is ongoing, and some studies have shown promising results.

Some of the psychedelics being studied for their potential mental health benefits include:

  • Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms): Psilocybin is being investigated for its potential to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Several clinical trials have shown promising results, and it's even gained breakthrough therapy designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment-resistant depression.

  • MDMA (Ecstasy): MDMA is being studied as a potential treatment for PTSD. In clinical trials, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has shown promising results in helping individuals process trauma and improve their mental well-being.

  • LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide): While less common in current research, LSD has also been explored for its potential in treating mental health conditions. Some studies have suggested it may have applications in reducing anxiety and depression.

  • Ketamine: Ketamine, although not a classic psychedelic, has been used for its rapid-acting antidepressant effects. It is administered in a clinical setting and has been approved by the FDA for treatment-resistant depression.

  • Stellate Ganglion Blocks (SGBs): Stellate ganglion blocks are a medical procedure sometimes used to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These blocks involve injecting a local anesthetic into the stellate ganglion, a cluster of nerves in the neck. It has shown some promise in reducing certain PTSD symptoms.

The use of psychedelics for mental health should only be considered in a controlled and supervised clinical or therapeutic setting, and it should be approached with caution.


Pharmacotherapy

Pharmacotherapy, the use of medications to treat mental health issues, can be a valuable component of comprehensive care for first responders dealing with mental health challenges.

Here are some examples of pharmacotherapy that may be prescribed for first responders:

  • Antidepressants, such as SSRIs and SNRIs

  • Anxiolytics to help manage acute anxiety or panic syndromes

  • Antipsychotics to manage hallucinations, delusions, or severe agitation

  • Mood stabilizers to help with mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder

  • Beta-blockers can help manage physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat and tremors

The decision to use pharmacotherapy should be made in consultation with a qualified mental health professional or psychiatrist who can assess your specific needs, symptoms, and potential side effects of medications.


Mindfulness-Based Therapy

Mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) is an approach that can be highly beneficial for first responders to help them manage stress, improve mental well-being, and enhance resilience. It includes activities such as meditation or breathwork.

MBT involves cultivating mindfulness, which is the practice of paying non-judgmental attention to the present moment.

Here's how MBT can be of help to first responders:

  • Stress reduction

  • Emotional resilience

  • Enhanced focus and attention

  • Improved interpersonal relationships

  • Trauma processing

  • Prevention of burnout

To implement MBT effectively, first responders can receive training or participate in mindfulness programs specifically designed for their profession.


Peer-to-Peer Support


Peer-to-peer support is exceptionally beneficial for first responders due to its unique ability to address the specific challenges and needs of this high-stress profession. It creates a sense of shared understanding and camaraderie within the first responder community.

Peers have firsthand knowledge of the daily demands, traumatic incidents, and emotional toll associated with the job, making it easier for them to empathize with one another.

This shared experience fosters an environment of trust and confidentiality where first responders can openly discuss their thoughts, feelings, and experiences without fear of judgment or stigma — a critical factor given the prevailing stigma surrounding mental health in these professions.

The informal nature of peer support can be especially beneficial when dealing with trauma, as it provides an immediate outlet for emotional processing, helping individuals come to terms with their experiences.

Peer support offers practical benefits, such as:

  • Sharing coping strategies, techniques, and advice

  • Managing stress and building resilience

  • Identifying early signs of mental health in colleagues

  • Promoting early intervention

  • Preventing more severe problems

By providing ongoing support and a sense of belonging, peer-to-peer support enhances mental health and job satisfaction, ultimately enabling first responders to better serve their communities in times of crisis.


Siento.io: Promoting First Responder Wellness With Our Peer-to-Peer Support Platform

Siento is dedicated to improving first responder wellness with our peer-to-peer support platform specifically designed for individuals in the most stressful careers.

We recognize the stigma associated with mental wellness issues in the first responder community. Not only does this stigma cause first responders to bury the trauma experienced on the job, but it also causes concerns about job security.

We’re here to end the isolation and suffering. When first responders can connect anonymously with others in the Siento community, they no longer feel alone in their struggles.

To learn more about how our mobile first responder wellness app can help you or a first responder you love, click on the link below and join our growing community.



The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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