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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Wellness Activities Help Relieve High Stress Levels of First Responders

Sharon L. Cohen

Co-author of Disaster Mental Health Community Planning

It is clearly understood that first responders are greatly at risk of mental health problems from the stress of their regular work. This stress is now considerably greater due to the pandemic and worsening manmade and natural disasters. A variety of wellness activities can be helpful in reducing emotional unrest.  Individuals who do two or more of these activities on a regular basis will have less risk of developing serious emotional issues or PTSD.  (Remember: If symptoms such as lack of sleep, loss of hunger, anger flashes, deep depression occur, seek help from a trauma-informed counselor.)


Physical Exercise and Endurance, such as brisk walking or jogging, yard work, dancing, swimming, biking, climbing stairs or hills, playing tennis or basketball.

Physical Exercise for Strength, such as weightlifting and using resistance bands.

Physical Exercise for Balance, such as walking heel to toe and standing on one leg.

Physical Exercise for Flexibility, such as body stretches.

  • Improves sleep
  • Increases interest in sex
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood
  • Increases energy and stamina
  • Reduces tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  • Reduces weight
  • Reduces cholesterol and improves cardiovascular fitness


  • Decreases stress
  • Relieves anxiety
  • Improves quality of life
  • May lower depression
  • May reduce chronic pain
  • May promote sleep quality
  • May relieve migraines

Meditation (Transcendental, Mindfulness or Guided)

  • Reduces stress
  • Controls Anxiety
  • Promotes emotional health
  • Lengthens attention span
  • May reduce age-related memory loss
  • Can generate kindness
  • May help fight addiction
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps control pain
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Can be done anywhere.

Grounding techniques


Grounding is a practice that can help a person pull away from flashbacks,

unwanted memories and negative or disturbing emotions.


  • Breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, breathe out for five seconds, hold for five seconds, several times until feeling more relaxed. Concentrate on the breathing rather than the running thoughts in the mind.
  • Flex and loosen muscles while breathing in and out.
  • Do simple stretching exercises and concentrate on the body rather than the mind.
  • Focus on a physical sensation in a quiet environment: placing hands in cold water, sitting in bright warm sunshine, smelling an essential oil like lavender or a burning candle, stroking a pet dog or cat.
  • Take a walk in a quiet or wooded area. Pay attention to the intermittent sounds or the quiet atmosphere.
  • Hold onto something, such as a rough stone and think about its texture.





The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma  by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.

Brainspotting: The Revolutionary New Therapy for Rapid and Effective Change  by David Grand, PhD 

Bulletproof Spirit, Revised Edition: The First Responder’s Essential Resource for Protecting and Healing Mind and Heart by Dan Willis (retired, La Mesa Fire Department)

The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living  by Nick Ortner and Mark Hyman M.D.

What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing  by Bruce Perry M.D.


Sharon L. Cohen of Newtown, Connecticut, is co-author with LPC Bob Schmidt of Disaster Mental Health Community Planning  (Routledge 2020), which provides a roadmap on developing a disaster mental health intervention plan that helps greatly reduce the incidence of PTSD and other long-term emotional problems following a human-caused or natural disaster. The pandemic and worsening natural disasters nationwide have led to a mental health crisis for individuals of all backgrounds, particularly the most vulnerable. For more information: www.disastermentalhealthplan.com.

Homeland Security Today
Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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