The Articles ofMental Health

Alternatives and Compliments to Therapy

Mental Fitness is not thought of in the same way we think of staying physically fit. We do P.T. and strength train; we do cardio, run, go on hikes and add in calisthenics, like pushups, pull ups and burpees. We warm up and cool down with stretching all in an effort to keep ourselves at a level of fitness needed to face the challenges of fighting Wildland Fires. Often times we wait or put off our mental health until we reach a crisis point and need to seek out therapy. Much like our body needs to stay in shape to meet the rigors of the job, our mind needs to be sharp too, to deal with the mental strain from lack of sleep, long hard shifts on the grind, dehydration, boredom for hours on the road, dangerous fire conditions, extreme heat and weather conditions just to name a few.

Therapy can be a powerful way to work through many of the issues we may be struggling with in our lives or relationships. However, there are numerous complimentary “exercises” we can do to keep ourselves mentally fit and healthy before we experience a psychologically challenging time in our lives.

Here are some ways to keep your mind sharp and to stay mentally fit. This list is by no means exhaustive. A little research goes a long way. Look for podcasts like the Huberman Lab podcast, and articles about each of these suggestions and consider what might fit your lifestyle and routine best. You’ll benefit much more, if you’re new to these suggestions, to start with one or two and make it part of your day, every day, than to do it once and forget about it. Much like you benefit from regular workouts. Take some time to find out more about each of these and try a couple out that sound right for you. If you would like more information on how to get started, please reach out to us at the Wildland Firefighter foundation and we’d be pleased to help you get started.

Here’s a list of our favorites:

  1. Meditation: This involves focusing your attention on a specific object, thought or activity to help reduce stress, anxiety and promote relaxation. There are lots of great options and many thoughtful teachers and books on the subject. An easy way to get started is to sit quietly for 5-10 minutes. Begin by focusing on your breath as it rises an falls. Just notice your thoughts as they arise without going down the rabbit hole. Just gently brush each thought aside like you would scrolling through social media. Let it pass and return to your breath. Be gentle with yourself about it. Start with 5 minutes and work your way up to 20 or so.
  2. Breathwork: Breathwork techniques involve controlled breathing patterns that can improve circulation, reduce stress, and improve mental clarity. A tried-and-true option for U.S. Navy Seals is box breathing. This is a technique where you breathe in through your nose to a count of 4, hold it for a count of 4, breathe out through your mouth for a count of 4 and hold for a count of 4. Repeat this cycle for a few minutes. Imagine the 4 sides of a box opening as you do this. There are apps that can assist with this activity too. This has the effect of lowering your heart rate and bringing your mind back into your body. It can be done anytime, anywhere but is especially effective if you get a few minutes of down time.
  3. Reiki: Reiki is a Japanese healing technique that involves the use of energy to balance the body and mind. Receiving Reiki requires that you make an appointment with a Level II or Master Reiki practitioner. Sessions are done while fully clothed and either lying on a massage style bed or even seated comfortably in a chair. Sessions usually last for 60-90 minutes but even 10 minutes of Reiki can really help. Reiki clients report that they feel centered, open, relaxed, calm, grounded and even had experienced healing from physical and mental distress or ailments.
  4. Red light therapy: Red light therapy uses red and near-infrared light to promote healing and reduce inflammation, which can help with conditions such as chronic pain, depression, and skin issues. Many gyms or spas offer red light therapy.
  5. Sauna: A sauna is a heated room that promotes sweating, which can help to remove toxins from the body, improve circulation and promote relaxation. There are steam sauna’s and dry sauna’s and more now were seeing infrared sauna’s. Check with Gym’s, Spa’s or maybe you know a friend who has a Sauna at their home.
  6. Cold plunge: Cold plunge involves immersing your body in cold water or ice baths to help reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and boost mood. Cold Plunges can be done in a professional grade Bath made specifically for just such a thing, a horse trough filled with water and ice or even by taking a dip in a cold river or lake. In the absence of any of these options taking a cold shower for 30 seconds to 3 minutes can have similar benefits. It helps to reset the Vagus nerve which regulates your central nervous system helping you to be calm and regulate your stress. There are many more benefits as well.
  7. Time in nature: Spending time in nature can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and promote feelings of well-being. Go for a walk, sit quietly in your back yard, sit by a river or lake, and just take in the sights, smells and sounds. Hiking, biking, camping, and just being in nature has a rejuvenating effect.
  8. Yoga: Yoga is a physical and spiritual practice that involves stretching, strengthening, and meditative practices, which can help to reduce stress, improve flexibility, and promote overall well-being. You can go to a yoga studio or watch and follow any number of videos found on social media. Yoga can be challenging but you feel like a million bucks if you stick with it.
  9. Acupuncture: Acupuncture involves the use of small needles to stimulate specific points on the body, which can help to improve circulation, reduce pain, and promote relaxation. Acupuncture is available through certain clinics and holistic practitioners. An appointment is generally required.
  10. Massage: Massage is a technique that involves applying pressure to specific parts of the body, which can help to reduce tension, promote relaxation, and relieve pain. Massage generally require that you remove most or all of your clothing. Massage Therapists are licensed. Your therapist will likely work for or at the office of a chiropractor, doctor, spa or Physical Therapist. There are also independent Massage therapy studios. Sessions usually last 30, 60 or 90 minutes and an appointment is usually required.
  11. Getting sunlight on your face first thing when you wake up: immediately after waking, take your coffee and face the sun. close your eyes and let the sunlight hit your face. 10-15 minutes is plenty. If the sun is hot 2-5 minutes will work. Don’t allow yourself to burn. The goal is just to get some of the sun when you first wake up. First light sun is a powerful way to balance your circadian rhythm. This Rhythm effects how you sleep. By improving your overall sleep quality, you can improve your mental stability and ability to manage stress as well as getting to sleep easier at night.

We hope you find some of these suggestions helpful and make them a part of your routine. You’ll find that each of these have obvious physical benefits too.

We’d love to hear from you as you try them out or let us know what’s on your go to list for staying mentally healthy!


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