Five Simple Resilience Practices To Reduce Stress In Your First Responder Family

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Nobody likes to flip their lid. It impacts our First Responder Family, those we love most. Even more so, it impacts us, the lid flipper. We can be left feeling guilt, remorse and shame.


The coronavirus has brought so many changes to our First Responder Families. This week alone, I have heard about rescheduled Disney vacations, graduations, weddings, birth plans, job loss, deployment and twenty-four hour shifts affecting the First Responder Families I work with. 


Living in close quarters, increased stressors, navigating unknown terrain and changes within our family system can make it difficult for us to bring a sense of peace to our First Responder Family home.  Feelings of anxiety, grief and helplessness can challenge our ability to remain calm and stay in the moment. 


There are five simple practices, if we apply to our day as First Responders and First Responder Spouses, can help us stay calm.


In the First Responder Family Online Support Program we talk a lot about the neuroscience behind 'flipping our lid'. 

 Neuroscientist Dan Siegal has researched the brain and created a brain flip model for us to understand what happens in our brain during stressful experiences and how we can counteract it. Watch Dr. Dan Siegel’s video here. 

  • Our spinal cord connects to our brainstem and limbic system which work together to regulate arousal, emotions and our fight, flight, freeze response.
    • Our brainstem is responsible for our heart beating, our breathing, staying awake or asleep. 
    • Our limbic system is responsible for processing our emotions, and stores our amygdala, our memory center where we store memories based on our 5 senses taking in the information.  
  • Our cortex is the higher brain that allows us to perceive the outside world. It is responsible for rational critical thinking, flexibility, problem solving, decision making, planning and short term memory 
    • The front part of our brain cortex is the prefrontal cortex responsible for attachment and personality. Our prefrontal cortex helps us with time management, interpersonal skills such as holding conversations and self regulation. Our prefrontal cortex processes information and regulates the subcortical limbic and brainstem system.
    • Our prefrontal cortex is slower to develop ranging between our mid to late twenties before it is fully developed. Hence why as adults we need to be bigger, kinder, stronger while parenting our kids which means keeping our own prefrontal cortex, our brain lid, on! 


I like to use the visual with my First Responder Family clients: when we flip our lid, we can act like Hulk but when we keep our lid on we can act like Bruce Banner. When we are stressed, exhausted, and triggered we can more easily flip our lid.


When we flip our lid, our prefrontal cortex goes off line. We react from our fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. Instead of being flexible, tuned in, connected and balanced like Bruce Banner,  we can become like Hulk, lose moral reasoning, yell, scream, throw things, say mean words, and act in ways that can be scary to our First Responder Family.


The good news is we can repair these outbursts with our First Responder Family after we flip our lid. We can take responsibility, explain to our kids what is happening in the brain, help them to understand emotional regulation and role model changed behaviour.

 The best news is we can teach our kids and ourselves practices to regulate and connect with ourselves and others to reduce the frequency and intensity of flipping our lid. 

Five Simple Resilience Practices To Reduce Stress In Our First Responder Homes: 

  1. NAME IT TO TAME IT as Dan Siegal says. When we can identify what is happening in our body sensations and emotions, we can say I am about to flip my lid,  I need to go for a time out. Choosing a time out self care activity to reduce our stress. Our 5 tools FREE download includes coping and grounding skills list might help to post on your fridge as a reminder of something you could choose. 
  2. Talk to yourself with SELF COMPASSION right now. YOU are doing your best and it is enough! Remind yourself EVERY day. Write it on your bathroom mirror in case you forget! Forgive yourself when you have a setback and seek repair by taking responsibility. See our past blog post on repair.  
  3. BREATHE: The simplest way to have a calm household is deep breathing. Practice deep breathing with a longer exhale than inhale to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Inhale for a count of four, Hold for a count of 4, Exhale for a count of 6 and repeat ten times. 
  4. Did you know MEDITATION activates and expands our prefrontal cortex?  It’s true according to the research by Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar. Daily meditation for even five minutes a day has been shown to reduce stress and increase our emotional regulation to help keep our lid on. Apps such as calm, headspace and insight timer can help develop your meditation practice. Meditation can also look like time in prayer, quiet reflection to the words of an inspiring song or being still listening and observing nature. Free Meditation Download for you here. 
  5. GRATITUDE: wake in the morning and before you fall asleep counting on your fingers five things you are grateful for and why.  Consider keeping a gratitude journal to write them down or there are apps you can use such as the Gratitude Journal where you can record in bullet short form for a simple quick process. 


These 5 daily practices, starting with only 5 minutes each, have been life changing for our First Responder Family and I hope you find they bring peace to your First Responder Family as well.  

Consider trying our Meditation Free download for you. It is a favourite amongst my First Responder Family clients. I hope it might be a helpful resource for your First Responder Family.

Our First Responder Spouse Online Program will be opening soon. Register your name on the waitlist to be the first to know when it opens. 

If you are interested in extra support for YOU to meet your First Responder Family’s wellness and resiliency goals, the First Responder Family Wellness Center is offering individual online coaching sessions, consider booking a free consultation here.


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