Emotional First-Aid: A Guide for First Responders to Cope During a Crisis

This is a special blog written specifically for essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis. We honor everybody who is working to keep Chicago safe and healthy right now, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, grocery store clerks, plumbers, baristas, restaurant staff, delivery people, and anybody else who is considered essential at this time.

Today’s first responders and front line workers are holding society together right now. They are on the front lines of a war being waged against an invisible enemy. While the rest of us are doing things like social distancing and self-quarantining from the safety of our homes, those who are on the front lines get up every morning and head to the battlefield. In doing so, they are having experiences that the rest of us can’t even imagine.

If you’re on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, you are likely experiencing some pretty traumatic events right now. It’s also likely that your normal go-to coping skills might be failing you because they’re not meant to get you through such a crisis. This blog post is written specifically for you, first responders and front line workers, to help you develop some tools to cope with the massive emotions you’re dealing with right now.

Tips to Cope With the Unimaginable

Whenever we go through a tough time or have a bad day, we have ways that we deal with it. These “ways we deal with it” are our coping skills. It’s important to note, however, that the more crisis-like the situation, the simpler the coping skills need to be. Our therapists at Lincoln Park Therapy Group selected these coping skills and self-care activities specifically for you, with the understanding that your time is limited, your stress is high, and your sense of normalcy is completely gone right now. They are intended to be simple activities you can do that don’t require much time, energy, or brain power, to help you lower your stress and cope with big emotions during this crisis.


When we say meditate, we’re not talking about sitting in a yoga pose with your eyes closed and chanting for 20 minutes. Let’s be honest – that’s not going to be helpful right now. What will be helpful is finding a quiet space where you can close your eyes and breathe for 5 minutes. Meditating for 5 minutes in your car after a shift before you drive home will help you regulate your breathing, which will help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, which will help you feel calmer and more grounded. Some of our favorite meditation apps are Calm, Headspace, and InsightTimer.

Sunshine, Exercise, and Fresh Air

Fresh air always does a body good. While you don’t have the luxury to sit outside for hours, you might be able to find 10 minutes to take a quick walk around the block. Being outside in the sunshine is nature’s way of boosting your mood and decreasing your stress a bit. Plus, by getting in some exercise like a quick walk you are getting your blood pumping and helping your body release endorphins, which also help to naturally boost your mood.

Set Some Boundaries

The reality is that right now, few people know what you’re going through. You probably have friends and family who care deeply about you and your well-being. So, they’re probably asking tons of questions and texting you non-stop until you respond. It’s okay to set some boundaries with them. Let them know that you aren’t able to text while at work. You can also let them know that while you appreciate their concern, you’re not in a place where you can talk about the details of your day with them. And that’s okay.

Turn to People Who Know

Now’s not a time to isolate yourself. But, you also may not want to turn to your normal support system. It’s okay to be selective in who you look to for support. During a crisis, people often want to connect with others who “get it”. Take breaks with colleagues, start group texts with your friends from work, or have a Zoom session with your friends who are in the same field. Turn to the people who understand, look to them for support, and give support back to them.

Veg Out

Vegging out and binge-watching Netflix gets a bad rap sometimes. Right now, you’re doing what you need to do to get by. You’re being challenged to cope with ungodly situations that are probably causing you to shut down to a certain extent. If you need to spend some of your days off sprawled out on the couch in your pj’s to cope with life right now, that’s okay. Nobody can blame you for it. That being said, be sure to practice some of these other coping skills, too. They can help take some of the stress off and decrease your need to shut down right now.

The Accidental Hero

The Dictionary defines a “hero” as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. If we read between the lines of that definition, we recognize that heroes are ordinary people who act with courage and bravery under extraordinary circumstances. Though they didn’t ask to be, we can all agree that first responders and front line workers are heroes right now.

If you’re a first responder or frontline worker who needs extra support right now, Lincoln Park Therapy Group is here to help. Please schedule an appointment if you are dealing with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or if you just want to talk. We’re here for you.


If you’re in the Chicago area and interested in therapy services, you can learn more about starting here. Or if you’re ready to get started, reach out to us and schedule an appointment.