The global and national crisis of 2020 so far has stretched and pushed the reasonable capacities of our first responders to extreme and unreasonable extents. We know that our first responders are confronted with realities most of us never need to see. And that, especially now, the expectations of the resilience of our first responders are unrealistic and unfair. The pressures and expectations being put on you may even lead you to feel more isolated than those of us quarantined at home. In order to support those truly on the front lines, we want to make sure you have some tools for navigating the intensified stress and need for mental and emotional resilience.
Regardless of the intensity of our experiences, our nervous systems all operate on the same fundamentals. Our nervous systems are either functioning in a sympathetic (active, contracted, fight/flight/freeze) or parasympathetic (relaxed, rest-and-digest) state. Those experiencing the extremes of stress may have a difficult time downregulating into a parasympathetic state when they finally have an opportunity. So how do we teach our nervous systems to release the contraction and relax? Or even function more effectively when it’s go-time again?
Here are a few physical and mental tools to calm and strengthen our neurophysiology.
Orient to Safety
The part of your brain that won’t quiet down is called the Limbic System. It’s constantly monitoring for threats and keeping you alert and responsive. However, it’s also the part of the brain that is making you able to function in go-mode. We all owe a great deal of gratitude to our limbic brains (and to yours!). But when we need a moment to rest or recalibrate, the way to quiet this part of the brain is to orient to safety. Pay special attention to the ways you are safe in the moment, focusing on the predictability of that safety.
Maybe it’s a reminder that your breathing has continued without your focused attention while you dealt with a situation. It’s so predictable and familiar and effortless that you can put all your mental resources elsewhere and it still breaths itself. While you’re thinking about it anyway, take a few deep, slow breaths to signal to your nervous system that we are downregulating the stress response now.
Or maybe it’s a reminder that gravity has been holding you in place the entire day. That may be the most familiar, predictable constant your body knows after a lifetime of consistency. Maybe it’s a reminder that you know where the bathroom is if you need it. Or the familiarity of the layout of the room you’re in.
If you can direct your limbic brain to focus on the familiar, predictable, and safe, the hypervigilance can soothe and those resources can become available for other parts of the brain or return to homeostasis.
Shake It Out – (Seriously)
The adrenaline and cortisol in your bloodstream are there to help you react and respond to a demanding situation. But if you won’t be actively using these stress hormones in the moment, you can force them to dissipate by making your nervous system think it did something with them. Shake them out! Go into the bathroom if you have to and shake, shake, shake your body. The physical activity will lead the nervous system to think it did its job fight/flight/freezing, allowing the stress hormones to dissipate and your blood to return to your core for homeostasis. If you think you might look silly – WHATEVER! Mammals shake when they’re down-regulating stress – just ask your dog on the 4th of July.
Hum, Gargle, Buzz Your Lips
These kinds of vibrations reach and settle your Vagus Nerve, our most far-reaching cranial nerve. Humming, gargling, and buzzing your lips send a soothing vibration to the vagus nerve, allowing for a signal of safety to travel throughout all its branches all the way down your spine, into your face, into your brain, into your heart, and more.
We are so grateful for what you do and we want you to feel supported and well-equipped in this particularly stressful time – and all the time! Have more resources:
- Lisa Wimberger, Founder of the Neurosculpting Institute, explains some stress management techniques for first responders in this video with PoliceOne.
- And here is a free Tension-Release Audio Exercise to follow along with when you have a minute to recalibrate.
Danielle Rachlin, CNSF
Danielle Rachlin, CNSF received her Neurosculpting® Facilitator Certification in the original round of NSI graduates in 2013. Since then, she has taken an academic approach to teaching and has brought Neurosculpting® into the world of college campuses with her recurring quarter-long series at Colorado Mesa University. Danielle has also produced an educational ghostwriting collection in her position in Communications for the Neurosculpting® Institute during the completion of her Master’s degree in Public Administration for Environmental Policy, Management, and Law.
Danielle is passionate about introducing these concepts to people that do not necessarily already know they are interested in the subject and in making the information accessible to all kinds of people. She is motivated to spread the content of Neurosculpting® as widely as she can because she wants everyone to understand the natural systems of their brain so personal development is not an uphill battle. She has been meditating since childhood and was originally drawn deeply to Neurosculpting® due to its solid and digestible foundation in science.