We’ve all heard the word “mindfulness” being thrown around lately as if it’s a new trend. The truth is, the practice of mindfulness has been around for quite some time! Traditionally and historically practiced in Western cultures, the practice of mindfulness has been shown to have numerous benefits. Mindfulness, depending on who you ask, can have several meanings. However, at the most basic level, the concept of mindfulness simply means intentionally and purposefully paying attention to the present moment without judgment (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, as cited in Williams, 2017).
In a line of work, such as that of first responders, where there are always moving pieces and high stress levels can be a norm, the practice of mindfulness can be rewarding. Contrary to what one might think, the practice of mindfulness does not have to take a lot of time out of your already busy schedule. For as little as five minutes out of your day, you can practice being in the present moment, on purpose and with intention. Taking the time to “put down your juggling balls for a little bit” can make the difference in stress levels, coping after “bad” calls, and overall health (Williams, 2017, pp. 10). The American Psychological Association has referenced mindfulness in the reduction of anxiety, depression, and pain. Additionally, results from 2013 research study from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University suggest that practicing mindfulness helps to reduce other acute stress responses, including those associated with PTSD.
Monotasking, or paying attention to one task at a time, on purpose and non-judgmentally for a few moments of the day can help shift your mind from a fight or flight state and increase your recovery time from stressful or anxiety-inducing events (Williams, 2017).
For first responders who are already busy and often times overwhelmed, here are few tips for practicing mindfulness:
- After a stressful or difficult call, take approximately 5 minutes to practice mindfulness once you return to your station. One easy way to practice mindfulness is through meditation. There a few apps that have made this practice much easier. Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer are great for practicing mindfulness and meditation with minimal time taken out of your day. These apps guide you through a variety of practices so you don’t have to think of them on your own, which is great if you are new to the practice of mindfulness.
- Mindful eating – monotasking, or doing one thing at a time with your full attention, is a great way to regroup either after a call or after a shift. We don’t usually think about eating as a task. And, for most people, it is common to eat while completing other tasks. However, taking just a few minutes (without the TV or radio on, without being on the phone, without talking to other, etc) to focus on your food in the present moment while noticing the tastes, textures, and smells can help you to relax and refocus.
- Exercising and/or running without music – also a form of monotasking – allows you to stay in the present moment without distractions.
- You choose! Practice being in the present moment while washing dishes, talking to a friend, or sitting alone. Without focusing your attention anywhere else, allow your mind to stay on one task at a time, whatever you choose, for that moment.
Williams, M. E. (2017). Why every mind needs mindfulness. Time Magazine, Special Edition, 8-14.