Meditation for First Responders: What It (Really) Is, Why It’s Awesome, and How to Start
Date:Sunday February 14, 2021
There are many mental images associated with the idea of meditation: dim lights, soft colors, and maybe some calming music may come to mind. If you have actually spent time meditating, though, you probably know that meditation is really a very diverse set of practices. If you don’t see yourself as a “meditation person” because of one form of meditation practice, it’s easy to miss out on some very helpful benefits simply because of these images we associate with it. Give meditation a chance!
What Meditation (Really) Is
Meditation should be seen as a way to increase your ability to focus, and to be mindful, which is to be grounded in the present moment so that we can regroup and restart after the chaos of fast-moving thoughts or activity. These are skills that are essential to many public safety officers and others working in the field, which can be incredibly unpredictable and require high levels of mental strength and concentration. Many first responders encounter more in a shift than they can process, and they may be left feeling exhausted, drained, irritable, or depressed. These feelings, when felt over time due to constant inputs of stress, can become a condition known as chronic stress.
Why Meditation is Beneficial to First Responders
What studies have shown is that meditation, even just short periods of quiet with intentional breathing and mind-clearing, can have a protective impact on your mental health when you live under chronic stress. Rather than building up over time, the stress response can be experienced and can then calm down, leaving you in a more neutral mindset rather than a constantly elevated, stress-filled mindset.
As a result, people often see better job performance and, probably as a connected result, better job satisfaction. After all, meditation helps you to focus better, engage well, and can reduce some of the intensity of anxiety or depressive thoughts.
How to Start Using Meditation to Improve Your Life
Here are some ideas to try for your first meditation exercise. However, your first experience doesn’t have to be your last one! You can try multiple methods to find something that works for you.
- Try a “body scan” meditation. This meditation goes from your toes to your head, deliberately relaxing all the parts of your body in turn. You don’t have to think any particular thoughts, but it can feel really positive and calming to just focus on relaxing each part of your body and see where you store some of your stress in your muscles through tension.
- In a tough moment, meditate briefly by trying to take and count deep breaths. Whether you find it most natural to count a 4 count or an 8 count, try slowly breathing in, holding your breath, and slowly breathing out. Focusing on your breath takes the focus off whatever is overwhelming or stressful at the moment, and can give you back mental clarity to make your next decision.
- Meditation is deeply tied to a bigger-picture concept called mindfulness, and resources like Mindfulness for Warriors can help you bring calm and clarity into all kinds of first responder situations, taking meditation out of the quiet room and into your daily work.
Remember, the goal of meditation doesn’t have to be something big picture or vague like “enlightenment” or “inner peace.” It’s been shown to boost things that first responders need, from mental clarity and focus to feelings of being calm and alert. If one strategy for meditation doesn’t work for you, try a different one, and remember that even seconds or minutes of quiet while clearing your mind can have a big impact on your state of mind.