Coronavirus Stress on First Responder Families

coping skills coronavirus covid-19 first responder first responder children first responder family first responder spouse first responders hope mental health occupational stress operational stress parenting ptsd ptsi resilience secondary stress self care stress support toxic stress

My First Responder met me in the kitchen tonight. Standing hip to hip, washing and drying dinner dishes at the kitchen sink, he leaned over to whisper in my ear, "I got a call, the department is restructuring, I might have to go back to the front line”.  Tears filled my eyes as he looked into them and said “I’m not worried”, “It’ll be okay” and held me.  

Emergency Services, Nurses, Doctors, Police Officers, Dispatchers, Firefighters, Paramedics, Correctional Officers, Crisis Response Teams,  Social Workers, Peace Officers and Military First Responders might be called to serve, while the general population is called to isolate.

Naturally stress rises in First Responder Families.

First Responder Spouses worry about their First Responder and their chance of bringing the coronavirus home.

First Responder Children worry about their First Responder parent catching the coronavirus and dying.

As a First Responder Spouse and parent of First Responder Children, I get this. The anxiety of our partner/ parent heading into the danger zone is one we live with daily as a First Responder Family. 

In my counselling, coaching and online practice, I am privileged to connect globally with First Responder Families. With the Coronavirus affecting our communities, I am noticing an increase of the “normal" anxiety and stress we live with as First Responder Families. 

While we know on a daily basis our First Responder might come in harms way, right now when we are flooded with information about a virus causing a pandemic and our person is walking around in it, well it becomes even more real. The more news we hear, the more anxious we can become. 

If I am honest, more than the coronavirus, I am worried about the potential opportunity of the reactivation of Post Traumatic Stress Injury or Operational Stress in our family. Night shift, lack of sleep, stress of working as a First Responder in a pandemic on the front lines is a cocktail of triggers for PTSD. 

So trust me when I say, I get that the world can feel scary right now.

While these times are uncertain there are a few things I believe in for certain. One being, we do have a choice with how we think and react right now that can provide comfort to our First Responder Family.

Perspective:

Yes it is realistic our First Responder is at a greater risk than the general public and hence our family is at a greater risk. Let’s focus on our perspective being realistic yet positive. I remind myself this will be hard but we have tools and resources to support us through it. 

Precautions:

Take precautions where possible to reduce the virus. First Responders changing at work or in the garage and showering before coming into the house; hand washing; lysol wiping etc.. Do what we can to prevent and let go of the rest.

Preparation:

While we don’t want to hoard, having a couple weeks of food, toiletries, medical supplies etc.. can alleviate stress as we socially distance.

Coping Skills:

Let’s reduce anxiety and stress in our homes by practicing deep breathing; family meditation; a youtube family yoga session; dancing in the kitchen; creating art or reading a book aloud as a family. Have a bucket list of movies, activities, books, games you want to try as a family and check off. 

Connection:

The most important gift from social distancing is time to slow down and be with our loved ones. To see them. To delight in them. Consider having periods of no screen time where family members shut down wifi, put away phones and connect together.

It can be a time of reaching out to others. Sitting down as a family with tea, cookies, fruit and lots of coloured markers, paint, pencil crayons, stickers and paper to write letters and make cards to family, friends and community members. Thanking them for the impact they have made this year on your life. Consider spreading joy by sending art to senior homes, hospitals and correctional facilities who are on lock down from visits with loved ones right now.

Thought Reframe:

Our thoughts affect our emotions. Our emotions affect our Actions. As an experiment notice how you feel when you switch a negative thought with a positive realistic thought.

Experiment:

Notice how you feel when you choose an opposite action to what you might normally do when stressed. For example, if you typically withdraw emotionally when stressed, consider calling or FaceTiming a family member or friend.

Boundaries:

Choose to take in information from reliable sources. Try not to get caught up in the fear posts on social media or watching/listening to too much media. Before becoming afraid ask is there evidence of this and then go to a reputable source: The World Health Organization, Center for Disease and Control, The Mayo Clinic etc..

Stress Reduction Lifestyle Practices:

When our stress response rises, so does our cortisol and adrenaline hormones, decreasing our immune system.

Consider lowering stress and building immunity with healthy habits:

Sleep: Recommendation is 7-9 hours for adults and 10-13 hours for children. If sleeping is hard, reach out, we can send you sleep hygiene tips.

Nutrition: Eating healthy for immune boosting.

Exercise: A simple walk outside or inside try Go Noodle.

Meditate: Consider trying an app such as Calm or Headspace

Coping Skills: Google ones to try, there are hundreds online.

Gratitude Journal: Daily name/ write 5 things you are grateful for and why as a family.

Laughter: Watch, listen or read something or talk with someone who makes you belly laugh.

Music: Play or listen to upbeat or comforting music. 

Faith: If you are a spiritual person, lean into your faith, pray, read words of comfort and peace.

Learn: Join an online learning program, watch a video teaching a new skill and kids can try Scholastic At Home Learning for free.

Play: Engage in creativity, do something silly, play boardgames, puzzles or ice breaker games as a family. We are loving Kahoot right now. Have a bucket list of movies, activities, books, games you want to try as a family and check off. Build forts inside and think of life as an adventure within your own four walls! Create magic for your kids.

Rest: Build in rest to restore. 

 If our First Responder Children are stressed:

  • Validate them
  • Hold them
  • Look them in the eye
  • Tell them you are a team and in this together, they are not alone, reassure them
  • Give them facts, clear age appropriate information they can understand on how to minimize risk and what will happen if family members get sick, reminding them of our resources to help us get better in a calm reassuring tone. 
  • Teach them how to crush worry thoughts: put them on a ship and picture blowing it out to sea; zap them like lightening; crinkle them up and pretend to throw them in the garbage; watch them go by like cloud thoughts.  
  • Play with them

When kids are stressed they usually ask us to play with them. Say yes as much as possible. If our children are withdrawing, initiate contact, join in with them on what they love. If they are acting out they are seeking you to help them co-regulate. Practice breathing together as you snuggle. 

First Responder Spouses, you may be on your own more right now. As you create a safe haven to welcome home your First Responder and nest your children in this pandemic, also remember to create space in your home and schedule, to take care of you!

We can do this! First Responder Families are resilient and adaptable. We got this! Let’s reach out to support and encourage each other. We are better together. 

If you need us, we are here to offer online, telephone or in-person sessions to support you and your family during this time Book A Session Here.

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