Editor’s Note: This is a 3-part blog covering the eight dimensions of wellness:
- Part 1 covers an introduction to wellness and Physical Wellness
- Part 2 covers Emotional Wellness, Spiritual Wellness, and Social Wellness.
- Part 3 covers Environmental Wellness, Occupational Wellness, Financial Wellness, and Next Steps
Last week, we talked about the idea of health and wellness in the workforce and how a healthy workforce means employees are more resilient and adaptable to change. Specifically for first responders, this means they’re better prepared to manage a demanding career that regularly exposes them to trauma. We also explored the first of eight dimensions we’ll cover in this series: Physical Wellness. If you have a chance to go back and read Part 1 before continuing on with the next set of wellness, we highly recommend it!
Emotional wellness involves being aware of and managing one’s emotions. It is essential to recognize and express emotions in a healthy way, not only on the job but with our loved ones. Developing healthy coping mechanisms can help manage emotions and prevent them from becoming overwhelming or damaging. Here are the three significant ways to boost emotional wellbeing:
1. Stay in the present.
An essential aspect of emotional wellness is staying present, which means not ruminating about the past and not stressing about the future. Our brains are wired to help us survive but not necessarily thrive (Gertel Kraybill, 2020). Meditation helps calm our body’s alarm bells and emergency responses when they activate unnecessarily. MRIs show that those who meditate 12-15 minutes a day have a larger prefrontal cortex, responsible for reasoning and comprehension, and a smaller amygdala, responsible for the perception of our emotions, including anger and sadness (Kral et al., 2019).
Try this: Set a timer for 12 minutes. Sit and close your eyes. Alternatively, keep them open with a soft focus if you are at work. Do box breaths…inhale for 6 seconds, hold the breath for 6 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds, and hold for 6 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Now do a body scan. Start at your feet…any tensions or uncomfortableness? Move up to the legs, thighs, torso, chest…any area you can relax more? Continue up to the shoulders and down the arms and then up the neck to the head. Take stock of how your body feels right now. For the last several minutes, sit, breathe as you normally would, and focus on the cool sensation of the air going into your nose as you inhale. Then focus on the warm sensation of the air exiting your nose as you exhale. Keep focusing on your breathing, in and out. When your mind wanders (which it will, and that is normal), just redirect it back to the breath. Continue this until your timer goes off.
There. You meditated. How do you feel? Likely a bit calmer, more collected, and maybe even happier. Try to do that at least once a day to receive the physiological benefits.
2. Give yourself permission to take a break.
In between calls and proactivity, give yourself 5 minutes minimum to take a mental break. Ideally, every 90 minutes or so. Park somewhere you are safe or escape into the locker room. This is especially important with newer first responders that have the “Go, Go, Go” mentality. That is the fastest way to reach a point of burnout. Keep in mind that not all breaks were created equal! Try to limit screens and instead go for a short walk, stretch, move around, or perhaps watch birds outside the window. Giving your brain a chance to stop ruminating and working in overdrive is important.
3. Practice Gratitude
According to the American Psychological Association, gratitude is when we experience a sense of happiness and thankfulness in response to a happenstance or tangible gift. We can both experience gratitude at any given time and also turn this into a long-term trait through consistency. Gratitude is like a muscle….it will atrophy if not flexed often. You build up your bicep muscles, why not your gratitude muscles? Before you go to bed each night, write down three things you are grateful for today. It can be anything…your health, your family, a good book, sunshine, the strength of the latte you had this morning, anything. Write them down. Try to do this for a week and reflect on your emotional state. By recognizing the goodness and blessings in our lives, despite the violence and death that so often surrounds first responders, we are likely to focus more on the good. Plus, studies have shown that expressing gratitude to others has a domino effect, and they are more likely to reciprocate similar behaviors in the future (Sauber Millacci, 2023). This is important in establishing a supportive, positive work culture.
Intellectual wellness involves engaging in activities that stimulate the mind. Activities that focus on our personal and professional development, hobbies, and creative abilities are ways to tap into this intellectual wellness. By challenging the brain, individuals can improve their critical thinking, continued intellectual growth, and self-efficacy.
Here are some ways to boost intellectual wellness:
- Learn and practice a new skill or hobby. Maybe you have always wanted to crochet, give archery a shot (pun intended) or learn a new language. Even a jigsaw puzzle or Candy Crush on your phone can boost one’s skills and acceptance of challenges (just no Candy Crush and blue light on your phone before bed, please).
- Sign up for a new class. There are so many classes out there, both in-person and virtual. Take a cooking class, photography class, or a course on a random subject that has piqued your interest.
- Find a way to be creative. Join an art, pottery, or woodworking group. You could even grab your kid’s coloring book and markers and color a page. Fostering your creative side is the cornerstone to problem-solving, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility.
Spiritual wellness involves seeking meaning and purpose in life. This can be achieved through church, prayer, or in non-religious ways. The key is finding what works for you. Developing a sense of spirituality can provide individuals with a sense of peace, purpose, and increased resilience. If you are a religious person, you can boost your spiritual wellness by praying, going to a place of worship, or talking to someone with shared beliefs.
Here are some additional ways to boost spiritual wellness:
- Write down or sit and reflect on your purpose in life.
- Read and study spiritual books from different perspectives.
- Humble yourself and help others through volunteering.
Social wellness involves cultivating positive relationships with others. Fostering relationships and minimizing isolation are essential for our mental health. This is especially true for first responders, namely law enforcement. Seeing the worst of people every day/week/month/year/decade can significantly impact our sense of connectedness to others, so social wellness is especially critical. Here are some examples so we can boost our social wellness:
- Surround yourself with good people. Social influence is a powerful thing. We often become who we are around, so surround yourself with positive, encouraging, compassionate people with that in mind.
- Join a club. What do you enjoy, and how can you be around like-minded people? How about an animal advocacy club? Or perhaps a gym class? Perhaps even going to bingo on a Thursday night! Cultivate a sense of connectedness to improve mental health, confidence, and communication.
- Plan a date night. Pick someone in your life; spouse, child, parent, friend, or anyone you wish to have a healthy and happy relationship with. Grab your phone. Now text (or call if you feel really daring) and invite them to lunch, dinner, a movie, or a friendly outing. If this person lives far away, which makes a face-to-face connection impossible, ask to catch up for ten minutes over Facetime. Intentionally spend time loving on those currently in your life.
Please join us next week where we’ll conclude this series on wellness by discussing Environmental, Occupational, and Financial Wellness and next steps for employers to apply these dimensions of wellness in the workplace.
About the Authors
Stephanie Kiesow, M.S. is a writer, author, speaker, and law enforcement veteran. Stephanie worked for three police agencies on the Central Coast of California during her 16 years of service and served as a contract worker for the Alcoholic Beverage Control, Police and Fire Dispatcher, and Police Officer. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the California State University at Channel Islands and her Master’s Degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Liberty University. Stephanie also holds many certifications from various organizations, including ones that involve psychological autopsies.
In 2022, Stephanie left her job as a police officer and now helps departments and corporations increase organizational safety and wellness through anecdotal and science-backed methods. In particular, she emphasizes the impact of “workicide” and its importance in suicide prevention and postvention. Stephanie has been a contributing writer for a handful of organizations and has been invited to speak as a guest on several podcasts. When not writing, teaching, or presenting, Stephanie enjoys spending time with her husband and young sons and taking care of her beloved dogs, cats, and chickens.
Erin Craw, Ph.D. earned her doctorate in communication from Chapman University in Southern California, emphasizing in health and interpersonal communication. Her research interests are at the intersection of health and interpersonal communication as it relates to social support, stigma, and resilience. Her dissertation explored police officers’ preferences for support and factors influencing mental health-related disclosure decisions.
She is particularly interested in translational research that improves access to needed support for underserved populations and those who face extensive barriers to gaining assistance. As the daughter of a police officer (36 years) and granddaughter of a firefighter (40 years), she has a true passion for research that informs mental health-related interventions for first responders, enhances communication surrounding mental health, and improves access to support. Erin’s research has been published in Health Communication, the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Communication Education, and the Journal of Applied Communication Research. She has also been invited to be a guest on several podcasts to discuss how her research can help enhance new approaches to improving mental health support and communication.
At Youturn Health, Erin manages the public sector accounts, ensuring that clients successfully access needed support.
Kral, T., Schuyler, B., Mumford, J., Rosenkranz, M., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. (2018, November 1). Impact of short- and long-term mindfulness meditation training on amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli. NeuroImage. Retrieved May 5, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6671286/
Sauber Millacci, T. (2023, February 22). What is gratitude and why is it so important? PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved May 5, 2023, from https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-appreciation/
Gertel Kraybill, O. (2020, January 31). The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Trauma. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 5, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/expressive-trauma-integration/202001/the-neuroscience-gratitude-and-trauma