Four Reasons Why Mindfulness Is Great for First Responders
Chances are, you’ve heard the term mindfulness; it’s a well-established concept enjoying its moment in the sun, and for good reason: a mindfulness practice can dramatically reduce stress, improve focus, and keep your mind and body healthy. And it’s because of these scientifically proven benefits that police departments across the country are taking a closer look at how mindfulness can improve the lives of their officers both on and off the clock. Don’t just take our word for it—here are four reasons why you should consider starting a mindfulness practice:
- The Marines are doing it. Law enforcement and the military share a similar load of work-related stress, so it should come as no surprise that the U.S. Department of Defense wanted to see how mindfulness improved soldiers’ performance and overall wellness. Research showed several positive outcomes associated with a mindfulness practice including improved physiological recovery, stress resilience, and easier reintegration into civilian life after deployment. Another military study found that a mindfulness practice improved working memory and cognitive resilience—aka, the ability to problem-solve effectively while under stress.
- Mindfulness makes you better—and safer—at your job. A study by Pacific University found that police officers who learned mindfulness skills saw noticeable improvements in resilience, mental and physical health, sleep quality, anger management, and fatigue. A rested, healthy body and mind are key in helping you stay calm, remain focused, and even be more empathetic in challenging situations. The ability to keep cool under pressure means you’re more likely to make it home safe.
- It can help PTSD. The nature of law enforcement means that police officers are exposed to a lot more trauma and stress than the average civilian, and this can take a huge toll on mental health. This is why scientists want to understand how mindfulness can help improve PTSD symptoms. While studies are ongoing, the National Center for PTSD has seen promising results, specifically in reducing symptoms like anxiety, hyperarousal, and avoidance. One study saw a dramatic difference in successful outcomes for PTSD patients: 73 percent of people who underwent mindfulness training saw improvement in their PTSD symptoms as opposed to just 33 percent who saw improvement after traditional PTSD therapy.
- Mindfulness improves mental and physical health. In addition to lowering stress, which can take a physical toll on the entire body, research shows that a mindfulness practice can improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, improve sleep quality, ease GI problems such as acid reflux and IBS, and reduce chronic pain. Studies even show that mindfulness can bolster weight loss efforts, and help keep that weight off longer!
How to Get Started
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to find more time in your already busy day. By practicing a simple breathing meditation for just five minutes a day, you can reap the health benefits of mindfulness. Try sitting in a comfortable chair and focus on your breath. Don’t control it, simply let it come and go at its own pace. Let whatever thoughts come into your head pass without judgment. And if you need a little more direction, you can try a guided meditation from an app like Headspace, Insight Timer, Ten Percent Happier, or Mindfulness Coach. And for more mindfulness resources curated by law enforcement for law enforcement, check out retired police officer and military veteran Richard Goerling’s site, Mindful Badge, for a comprehensive list.