Taking Care of Your Basic Needs (First Things First!)
Taking care of your mental health (COVID-19)
Adjusting to a New Normal
Recognizing Signs of Stress
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public safety personnel (PSP) are particularly vulnerable at this time because unlike the general public, the occupational demands of PSPs require them to act against the recommendations of public health in order to keep the community safe. This can result in certain kinds of stress, such as fears of bringing the virus home to their families or being asked questions about the pandemic by the public that they do not necessarily have the answers to. Overall, this can have a significant impact on one’s thinking, emotions, behavior and the body.
Increased levels of anxiety is a common response to stress in many people, and the body often becomes overworked when trying to mediate stress. Common bodily responses to stress include an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, which may lead to increased irritability and restlessness. Consequently, most of our body’s energy resources are dedicated to help deal with this elevated stress. Most importantly, it can divert energy away from essential bodily functions regarding rest, digestion and immune function.
Signs of Stress Include:
- Difficulty with Concentration
- Increased Irritability with Others and Interference with Daily Tasks
- Increased Restlessness
- Changes in Appetite and Sleep Patterns
- Decreased Motivation and Energy
- Persistent Negative Thoughts
- Increased Muscle Tension
- During times of stress, individuals may experience extreme alterations in arousal, thereby affecting their ability to manage stress and emotions.
These symptoms include hyperarousal, which is also called the “fight-or-flight” response and may be characterized by irritability, impulsive behaviours and increased muscle tension in the body. By contrast, individuals may also experience hypoarousal states, which may include emotional shutdown responses in the face of stress. This may cause individuals to detach emotionally from their surroundings. In order to stay balanced, it is important to try and develop personalized coping strategies that help individuals stay present and attuned to their surroundings. Examples of coping strategies include:
- Mindfulness based meditation
- Deep, slow breathing exercises
- Schedule short breaks throughout work shifts, slow down and allow your arousal levels to stabilize.
- Developing at-home physical exercise routines that allow you to expend stress hormones and help release emotions associated with hyperarousal.
- YMCA: Offering free classes including Bootcamp, Barre, Yoga and more.
- Core Power Yoga: CorePower is providing free access to a limited collection of online classes available weekly.
- Fitness Blender: This website features over 600 workouts that can be searched by length, difficulty, training type, calories burned and muscle group.
What is mindfulness?
You may be familiar with the concept of “autopilot”: a system that can assist people in directing vehicles or aircrafts without the necessity of constant feedback from human operators. Each of our brains also has an “autopilot” mode – a system that we engage from time to time that can help us complete every-day tasks, such as driving to a familiar place, without needing our full attention to navigate every turn or routine stop. This is important, as not every task we engage in or every routine procedure we do needs our full attention, so our brain’s autopilot mode can save us a lot of time and hassle. However, decades of scientific research are demonstrating that spending too much time engaging the “autopilot” mode, especially when we don’t need to – when we’re spending time with loved ones or when we’re doing activities we enjoy – can dampen our enjoyment of the present-moment and put us on track for mental health difficulties.
Mindfulness – or being able to pay attention to the present-moment in an accepting, open, and non-judgmental way – is the antidote to the “autopilot” mode. Scientific research shows that people who cultivate their mindfulness over a period of time, or cultivate the skill of paying attention to the present moment with acceptance, likely experience several important changes: improved mood and overall mental wellbeing, improved ability to keep attention on important tasks and ignore distractions, improved sleep, and overall improved sense of connection and belonging with others. While the concept of mindfulness is simple – paying attention to the now no matter what the now may bring – putting the concept into action takes a lot of patience and practice.
How can we practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness is often cultivated through deliberate practice, by dedicating even short amounts of time from your day to sit in a quiet place, paying attention to present-moment experiences as they arise and pass. Below, you will find audio recordings of brief guided meditations that are designed to cultivate the skill of mindfulness. The first is a brief, 3-4 minute audio recording that grounds you in the present-moment experiences of your body and mind (e.g., paying attention to sensations of breathing and other experiences present in the body and mind), while the other is a 10-minute audio recording designed to cultivate capacity to pay attention to different parts of and sensations presents throughout the body.
Listen to Breathing Space here: (approximately 3 minutes)
Listen to Body Scan here: (approximately 10 minutes)
Introduction provided by Dr. Shadi Beshai, Ph.D., R.D.Psych., Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Regina
Mindfulness meditation recordings provided by Dr. Brenda Key, Ph.D., C.Psych. Psychologist, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton; Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University.