First Responder Wellness Coach & Specialist • Former Deputy Sheriff Helping First Responders Break Free from their Mental Battle and Beat The Burnout
The biggest challenges that First Responders face when dealing with mental health issues are their shift work, disconnecting from themselves, and the stigma associated with seeking help. Transcript: "What would you say are the most common challenges that first responders face when dealing with mental health issues? The biggest hurdles that I see a lot of times are just pure shift work having really messed up hours and Not enough time off and being short-staffed But the biggest issues that I'm seeing are coming from first responders being really disconnected from themselves They get really overwhelmed sensory wise and the easiest way we know how to deal with that is just to numb out And Bessel van der Kolk talks about how the essence of trauma is the loss of identity So when we're experiencing traumatic events, we're kind of losing our identity. We're Separating from ourselves, but this is a double-edged sword because we have this other identity as being a police officer or firefighter to fall back on so we double down on that and we use work and staying busy to Compensate for those things the stigma is another big issue. Although it's getting better It is still around and I think that we stigmatize ourselves More than we realize so getting over the fear of just coming out and saying I'm struggling But what I found is once you can get over that hurdle The rest of it can just flow naturally"
The biggest challenge for female First Responders in a male-dominated environment is being able to find their place in the field, managing the stressors of the job, and finding a safe place to go to the bathroom on patrol. Transcript: "So as the first female to answer this question, what's the biggest challenge for female first responders in a male-dominated environment? I was a deputy sheriff for many years and I think that this is all going to depend on the individual. I was a major tomboy growing up. I grew up out in the middle of nowhere. I was pretty rough around the edges and it didn't take much for me to fit in with the guys. That's not going to be the case for everybody. I also entered into law enforcement doing undercover online investigations at just 19 years old and I learned through that position that I was very valuable to them. Not everybody gets the opportunity to be seen as valuable in their field right away. So the challenges are really going to be different for each individual. Law enforcement, we're about 13 percent. Fire service, I think it's about 11 percent and EMS it's about 30 percent. I honestly think a lot of the challenges are going to be pretty similar to the guys. They're just not willing to talk about it. Whatever your insecurities are, knowing who you are as a person, being able to find your place in the field, and being able to manage the stressors of the job. The only other major difference for female law enforcement was the uniform and being able to find a safe place to go to the bathroom on patrol."
I have a unique approach to Wellness for First Responders which focuses on long-term sustainability, discipline, and resilience. I go deeper into these topics in my free mini course on the Lifesaver Academy app. Transcript: "What topics do you have the most unique opinions, methods, or expertise around? I love this question. Being a first responder wellness coach, there are a lot of things that are typically taught as far as wellness for first responders. Goals, motivation, and resilience. I have a different approach. As far as wellness goes, goals are a little bit too short-sighted for me. Goals are meant to be achieved and then they go away. If you want true wellness, it needs to be sustainable. Motivation can be great, but it's fleeting. What you need is discipline. Just like we can have a human emotion and validate that emotion, we really need to be operating out of logic. So instead of operating out of the motivation that's fleeting, we need to operate out of discipline. And resilience. Being resilient is very important, but it's not going to happen through a training. It's like trying to teach a rookie how to be a veteran cop. It only happens through experience and trial and error. And the problem lies is when it's expected of us right out of the academy. And we expect it of ourselves, because we've been through the training. So when we aren't feeling very resilient, we shame ourselves and we isolate. We tell ourselves, well, I should be able to handle this. I should be better. I should be okay. Instead of saying, it gets easier with more experience. Otherwise, it's kind of like wearing armor that's made out of tinfoil. I go deeper into all three of these in my free mini-course on the Lifesaver Academy app. Sometimes it's important to think outside the box."
The most effective way to prevent negative mental health effects from high stress jobs is by reconnecting with the body through breathing exercises, grounding techniques, meditation, mindful movement, and proper nutrition. This will help regulate the mind/body connection and allow for true connection rather than over-regulation. Transcript: "What do you think are the most effective ways to prevent the negative mental health effects of high stress jobs? I love this question and I'm going to stick with first responders since that's my specialty. In my opinion, the most effective ways to manage this is making sure that we are not neglecting the body. I'm not just talking about diet and exercise here. When we experience high stress situations, it actually encodes in our body the same way that trauma does. It sets off the same series of events within our body as going through something traumatic. The alarm bell goes off, we get into survival mode, cortisol starts pumping, and all kinds of things are going on. As first responders, we've learned to mask all of that that's going on and still do our jobs. Cool as a cucumber. So the most effective ways are going to be reconnecting with our body, making sure that our mind and body are speaking the same language so that we can mitigate those effects. We can do this through breathing exercises, grounding techniques. Meditation has a ton of scientifically proven benefits. Mobility, being really mindful about how we're moving our body, nice and slow, really intentional. And then also nourishing our body in a proper way. Blood sugar regulation, caffeine and nicotine moderation, hydrating, a proper diet. None of those things alone are going to change everything, but incorporating several of those things, you will really start to see a big change. Because only 20% of the mind-body communication is from your brain to your body. 80% of it is from your body to your brain. Regulating is really important, but I always say true connection, mind and body connection over regulation. We're not always going to be regulated. We're human. We don't want to flatline, right? But making sure that we're staying connected, listening to those signals and honoring that."
To not become numb with your feelings of compassion over your career as a first responder, it is important to check in with your own mental health and stay connected with your body. You can do this by talking it out, going to the gym, going for a walk, doing breathing exercises, meditation, and tapping into you and your body. It is also important to allow other people to support you when needed. Transcript: "How do you not become numb with your feelings over your career? Compassion fatigue is super common in the first responder world. The first couple years it's really easy to kind of be strong for people and really hold space for them. But after a while your defense mechanisms kind of wear down. And on top of that, there's probably gonna be cases that you try to extend compassion and people are just not nice. So this really depends on the individual and making sure that you're checking in with your own mental health, making sure that you're staying connected with your body. I talk about this all the time. We get so overwhelmed that it's just easier to disconnect from ourselves, i.e. numbing out. Certainly this compartmentalization can be very effective while you're on shift. It's going to allow you to do your job and do it effectively and not crumble. But when you get home, you have got to process these things. You have got to decompress. You have got to allow your body to feel the effects of the stress and then release it. And if you're brave enough to start diving into this stuff, a lot of times we find that we are very good at intellectualizing our emotions and not actually feeling them. It's much safer to numb everything out and just try to explain it away. You cannot heal and process only in your mind. You have to let it cycle through your body. There are a lot of safe ways to do this. Sometimes just talking it out and letting yourself go through that is enough. Going to the gym, going for a walk, doing breathing exercises, meditation, tapping into you and your body, but ultimately just making sure that you're staying connected with yourself. And allowing other people to support you when needed."
In 2015, I left my job as a deputy sheriff due to depression and trauma. I went back to school and got a masters in Victimology, learned yoga and meditation, and obtained many certifications. In 2020, I decided to combine everything together to become a First Responder coach and help those in need. Transcript: "What inspired you to make the transition from deputy sheriff to first responder coach? Great question. In 2015, after just being high speed low drag for too long, my previous traumas from before the job cut up to me and I was deep into depression, PTS, suicidal ideation, and adrenal fatigue. It was me or the job. I chose me and I became a criminal court victim advocate. During that time, I went on a quest to figure out how to heal myself, learned that I really needed to heal my body before anything, and then move into healing my mind and my emotional state. I went back and got my master's degree in victimology, which opened up the world of trauma for me. I also dove back into yoga and decided to do a 10-month yoga teacher training to become an instructor. Since then, I've also gotten many certifications, including Reiki master, meditation specialist, and all kinds of other things. When I left my advocacy position in 2020, I took some time off and I didn't know what I wanted to do with myself. And so I decided to wrap it all together and bring it back to my favorite people, first responders, because we need you guys and we need you healthy. It comes very naturally to me and I love what I do. So there were several years between A and B, but that was my transition."