You Can Manage Stress with Exercise

Would it surprise you to learn (according to our own research) that only about one-quarter of first responder always or often follow a weekly exercise program?

Some people have found how to get through challenging times by pushing themselves to work out. When you exercise, you have an opportunity to zone out, or have something else to focus on so you can take your mind off difficulties.  So aside from the physical benefits of exercise, there are mental benefits as well.

You don’t have to be an athlete or spend a lot of time in the gym in order to exercise.  Perhaps a morning run, or setting a goal for a certain minimum number of steps you will get in is something that could become part of your routine.  Maybe you can join an exercise class that meets a couple of times a week, or take dance lessons, or commit to practice one of the martial arts.  The obvious point here is that doing something is better than doing nothing.  And our research has revealed that 24% of first responders do not follow any type of weekly exercise plan at all!

Starting today, make room in your life for exercise. It can help to bring balance so you can live a better quality life. And you will likely find that your circumstances seem to improve when you make time for taking care of your mind and body.

Self-Reflection Questions:

  1. What options exist for me to exercise – something I believe I can stick with?
  2. How does long-term exercise help in relieving stress?
  3. Are there other activities can I participate in to balance my life and manage stress?

If you’d like to speak to one of our peer support specialists about how to manage the stress of work or life in general, feel free to reach out to us at and someone will be happy to chat with you.  If you are in crisis, please text the keyword BADGE to the National Crisis Text Line where you can be connected to a trained crisis counselor, 24/7/365.  Always free.  Always confidential.

The Healing Power of Sleep

“Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.” – Macbeth

Those who work in emergency services have a constant flow of adrenaline running into their system, and that can have some significant detrimental effects.  The problem is that having that constant presence of adrenaline and other stress-related hormones in our system leads to an actual addiction.  We can’t seem to function without it, but at the same time we know it is slowly killing us.  So, what do we do to combat that addiction?

One word – sleep.  Sleep is the most important component of renewing our bodies on a daily basis.  It has become an issue in modern day America because of our fast-paced society.  Many first responders I’ve talked to seem to wear their lack of sleep as a badge of honor, as if sleeping less means they must be stronger and better at what they do.  They justify it by saying, “I don’t need more than 5 hours of sleep,” which may be true if you also “need” to double your risk for cardiovascular disease and increase your risk of premature death by 24%, because that’s what the research says is going to happen!   The issue is that lack of sleep takes away the recovery time we need to bring our stress levels down.

If you want to follow the best practices for improving your sleep and combating adrenaline addiction, there are several things you need to do:

  • Have a consistent to-bed and wake-up time, even on weekends or days off.  You confuse your brain when you don’t have a consistent sleep pattern.
  • Avoid using electronics before bed, or in bed.  If possible, store them overnight somewhere other than your bedroom.
  • Darkness prompts the brain the rest, so it is best to keep your bedroom as dark as possible.  And don’t try to fall asleep while watching television.
  • Don’t eat anything, and don’t drink alcohol or caffeine within a couple hours of bedtime.  Otherwise, your brain will need to stay active controlling your digestive system.
  • Finally, exercise regularly.  Your brain uses 20% of the oxygen in your blood, and regular exercise keeps oxygenated blood flowing.

I am not a somnologist, so I’m going to keep this explanation as non-clinical as possible.  There are two different types of sleep: non-dream sleep and dream sleep, and dream sleep is when you are getting the most restful, restorative, regenerative sleep.  Each sleep cycle lasts up to 90 minutes.  The first sleep cycle includes 5 minutes of dream sleep, and in each successive sleep cycle the amount of dream sleep increases by 5 minutes.  The “sweet spot” for most people seems to be between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, keeping in mind that only about 20% of that will be the kind of rejuvenating sleep that our body needs.

If you are following the suggestions above and are still having trouble getting your mind to turn off so you can rest, you may need to consult your physician and have a discussion about the problem.  If you are dealing with stress and anxiety in general, reach out to a trusted peer, or contact our peer support specialists at Call for Backup ( and we’d be happy to chat.  Meanwhile, be safe, be well, and get some rest!

Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear, and Uncertainty – Part 5

At times like this, it’s easy to get caught up in your own fears and concerns. But amid all the stories of people fighting over rolls of toilet paper or lining up outside gun stores to arm themselves, it’s important to take a breath and remember that we’re all in this together. As a quote circulating in Italy reminds us: “We’re standing far apart now so we can embrace each other later.”

Help others (it will make you feel better)

It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and well-being. Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stems from feeling powerless. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose.  Even when you’re self-isolating or maintaining social distance, there’s still plenty you can do to help others.

Follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, staying at home, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with others can help save the lives of the most vulnerable in your community and prevent overburdening the healthcare system.

Reach out to others in need. If you know people in your community who are isolated—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support. Perhaps an older neighbor needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact. Or maybe they just need to hear a friendly, reassuring voice over the phone. Many local social media groups can help put you in touch with vulnerable people in your area.

Donate to food banks. Panic-buying and hoarding have not only left grocery store shelves stripped bare but have also drastically reduced supplies to food banks. You can help older adults, low-income families, and others in need by donating food or cash.

Be a calming influence. If friends or loved ones are panicking, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumors, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these anxious times can help you feel better about your own situation too.

Be kind to others. An infectious disease is not connected to any racial or ethnic group, so speak up if you hear negative stereotypes that only promote prejudice. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.

If you’d like to chat with one of our peer support specialists, feel free to message us a and we will connect with you as quickly as possible.


Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear, and Uncertainty – Part 4

This is an extraordinarily trying time, and all the tried-and-true stress management strategies apply, such as eating healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep, and meditating. Beyond that, here are some tips for practicing self-care in the face of the unique disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

Take care of your body and spirit

  • Be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself if you’re experiencing more depression or anxiety than usual. You’re not alone in your struggles.
  • Maintain a routine as best you can. Even if you’re stuck at home, try to stick to your regular sleep, school, meal, or work schedule. This can help you maintain a sense of normalcy.
  • Take time out for activities you enjoy. Read a good book, watch a comedy, play a fun board or video game, make something—whether it’s a new recipe, a craft, or a piece of art. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it takes you out of your worries.
  • Get out in nature, if possible. Sunshine and fresh air will do you good. Even a walk around your neighborhood can make you feel better. Just be sure to avoid crowds, keep your distance from people you encounter, and obey restrictions in your area.
  • Find ways to exercise. Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. While the gym and group classes are out, you can still cycle, hike, or walk. Or if you’re stuck at home, look online for exercise videos you can follow. There are many things you can do even without equipment, such as yoga and exercises that use your own body weight.
  • Avoid self-medicating. Be careful that you’re not using alcohol or other substances to deal with anxiety or depression. If you tend to overdo it in the best of times, it may be a good idea to avoid for now.
  • Take up a relaxation practice. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can bring you back into a state of equilibrium. Regular practice delivers the greatest benefits, so see if you can set aside even a little time every day.

If you’d like to chat with one of our peer support specialists, feel free to message us a and we will connect with you as quickly as possible.



Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear, and Uncertainty – Part 3

Evidence shows that many people with coronavirus—particularly young, seemingly healthy people—don’t have symptoms but can still spread the virus. That’s why the biggest thing that most people can do right now to make a positive difference is to practice social distancing.

But social distancing comes with its own risks. Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. That’s why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support when we need it, even as we cut back on in-person socializing.

Stay connected—even when physically isolated

  • Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. If you tend to withdraw when depressed or anxious, think about scheduling regular phone, chat, or Skype dates to counteract that tendency.
  • While in-person visits are limited, substitute video chatting if you’re able. Face-to-face contact is like a “vitamin” for your mental health, reducing your risk of depression and helping ease stress and anxiety.
  • Social media can be a powerful tool—not only for connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances—but for feeling connected in a greater sense to our communities, country, and the world. It reminds us we’re not alone.
  • That said, be mindful of how social media is making you feel. Don’t hesitate to mute keywords or people who are exacerbating your anxiety. And log off if it’s making you feel worse.
  • Don’t let coronavirus dominate every conversation. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company—to laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives.

Emotions are contagious, so be wise about who you turn to for support

All of us are going to need reassurance, advice, or a sympathetic ear during this difficult time. But be careful who you choose as a sounding board. The coronavirus is not the only thing that’s contagious. So are emotions! Avoid talking about the virus with people who tend to be negative or who reinforce and ramp up your fears. Turn to the people in your life who are thoughtful, level-headed, and good listeners.

If you’d like to chat with one of our peer support specialists, feel free to message us a and we will connect with you as quickly as possible.