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Finding sanctuary at home: The importance of a calming space for first responders

Easy tips for building a personal oasis at home where you can decompress, recharge and sustain your mental wellbeing

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Photo/DALL-E

By Amy Perez

As a first responder, I know firsthand the importance of having a safe and calming place to come home to after a long and often emotionally draining day. Our work exposes us to some of the most difficult situations humanity has to offer, and we must have a space where we can process our experiences and recharge our emotional batteries.

I want to share the reasons why your home should be your sanctuary, some tips for creating a calming environment, and how to seek help when a particularly challenging call won’t seem to fade away.

Why your home should be your sanctuary

First responders face stressful situations daily. These events can take a toll on our mental and emotional wellbeing, making it vital to have a space where we can feel safe, decompress and process our experiences. Creating a calming environment at home can help us manage the darkness of our work and maintain our overall wellbeing.

Here are some ideas on how to create a calming and safe space at home:

Designate a relaxation area: Choose a room or corner of your home that is dedicated solely to relaxation. This space should be free of distractions and work-related items. Fill it with things that bring you joy and comfort, such as soft blankets, soothing scents and calming colors. Whatever you call it — man cave, she shed or book nook — just give yourself the gift of a YOU space! Sometimes you will have to be creative to find a space but do it. I love to read but had no room for all my books. We built bookcases in our dining room and now it’s my favorite place to hang out if I am not outside.

Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or yoga, can help first responders process the day’s events and foster mental clarity. Set aside time each day to practice mindfulness. You don’t have to sit cross-legged and chant. Mindfulness can happen on a walk, while lifting weights at the gym, or in the shower. Taking the time for yourself to unravel your day is mindfulness!

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Disconnect: After a long day, it’s important to disconnect from your work. Turn off your phone, avoid checking work-related messages, and focus on activities that allow you to unwind and be present in the moment.

Maintain a healthy sleep routine: Yes, I can hear all my fellow night-shift cops laughing! Sleep is essential for maintaining mental and physical health. Ensure your bedroom is a calming, quiet space that promotes restful sleep. Invest in comfortable bedding and consider using blackout curtains or a white noise machine.

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Surround yourself with greenery: Incorporating plants into your living space can have a calming effect and help purify the air. Consider adding a few low-maintenance plants to your relaxation area or throughout your home. Try gardening I promise the first tomato you grow will have you hooked!

Engage in calming hobbies: Find activities that help you unwind and relieve stress, such as reading, painting, or gardening. Engaging in a hobby can provide a sense of accomplishment and help you shift focus from work-related stress. Before incorporating some new hobbies, I was a shower, beer, “Call of Duty” sort of girl. There is nothing wrong with that but the key to everything is moderation. Now I keep chickens. They are fun to watch, and we get eggs…BONUS!

Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between your personal life and your work life. Communicate your needs to your loved ones and coworkers, and do not hesitate to ask for support when needed. Setting boundaries can help maintain balance and prevent burnout. Being married to another first responder offers unique and sometimes challenging situations. We agreed early in our relationship to the 30-minute rule. The person coming off shift only has to say hi and then gets to disappear for a shower and decompression time. I know this is hard when there are little kids in the home too, but it works. I don’t need those 30 minutes every day, but I am glad for it when I do.

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Connect with nature: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Make time to go for walks, hike, or simply sit outside and enjoy the natural surroundings.

When a bad call won’t go away

There are times when a particularly difficult call can linger in our minds, making it challenging to move on. It’s essential to recognize when you need additional support and seek help when necessary. If you have not been here, that is awesome but keep these strategies tucked away for later or to give a squad mate in the future.

Here are some ways to address these lingering emotions:

Talk it out: Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or colleague to share your feelings and thoughts about the call. Discussing your experiences can provide a fresh perspective and alleviate some of the emotional burdens.

Seek professional help: If you find that a bad call is interfering with your daily life, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and support to help you work through your emotions and develop coping strategies. Consider EMDR and other therapies that have been shown to benefit military and law enforcement personnel.

Engage in self-care: Prioritize self-care activities that help you recharge and maintain your emotional wellbeing. This may include exercise, spending time in nature, or engaging in a creative hobby.

Remember your purpose: Remind yourself of the important work you do as a first responder and the positive impact you have on the lives of others. Focusing on the positive aspects of your job can help you maintain perspective during difficult times.

It is crucial for first responders to have a calming and safe space at home to process the challenges of our job. By creating a soothing environment, practicing mindfulness and seeking help when needed, we can maintain our wellbeing and continue to serve our communities with compassion and resilience.

Additional support options for first responders

Here’s a closer look at other support resources available to first responders tailored to addressing the unique pressures and challenges they face:

Peer support groups: I am on my agency’s peer support team, and I have witnessed the benefits of this resource. Many first responder organizations offer peer support groups where you can connect with fellow first responders who understand the unique challenges of your work. These groups can provide valuable camaraderie and support.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): Check if your workplace offers an EAP, which often provides free and confidential mental health resources, counseling and referrals to help employees cope with personal or work-related issues. All EAPs are confidential so don’t be afraid to take advantage of these programs.

Crisis hotlines: In moments of emotional distress, crisis hotlines can offer immediate assistance and support. Many crisis hotlines cater specifically to first responders, ensuring that the person on the other end understands your unique experiences and concerns. Thanks to technology, there are even text hotlines, which given how hard it is for many of us to reach out, is a blessing.

Online support communities: There are numerous online forums and support groups where first responders can share their experiences and connect with others who understand the challenges of the job. These communities can provide valuable insights and encouragement during difficult times.

By incorporating these additional suggestions and support options into your daily routine, you can further cultivate a sense of calm and balance both at home and in your professional life as a first responder. Remember, taking care of your mental and emotional wellbeing is just as important as your physical health, and doing so will enable you to continue serving your community effectively and compassionately.

One other thing, watch out for each other. Not just on duty, but off duty too.

First Responder Wellness Week

About the author
Amy Perez has been a sworn police officer for 19 years. She currently serves as a sergeant on Night Watch Bravo at a Florida police department. She is deeply involved in mental health and crisis intervention, serving as a co-leader of the Critical Incident Stress Management and Peer Support Teams. She has extensive training in Crisis Negotiations (CNU), Critical Incidents (CIT) and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), showcasing a strong commitment to the wellbeing of officers and the public.

Sergeant Perez holds a bachelor’s degree in administration and is currently working toward a master’s degree in organizational leadership. She lives in central Florida surrounded by her family and animals.

Amy Perez has been a sworn police officer for 19 years. She currently serves as a sergeant on Night Watch Bravo at a Florida police department. She is deeply involved in mental health and crisis intervention, serving as a co-leader of the Critical Incident Stress Management and Peer Support Teams. She has extensive training in Crisis Negotiations (CNU), Critical Incidents (CIT) and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), showcasing a strong commitment to the wellbeing of officers and the public.

Sergeant Perez holds a bachelor’s degree in administration and is currently working toward a master’s degree in organizational leadership. She lives in central Florida surrounded by her family and animals.


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