First responders are facing immediate on-the-ground challenges amidst the coronavirus crisis.

As The New York Times reports, “doctors, nurses and other frontline medical workers across the United States are confronting a dire shortage of masks, surgical gowns and eye gear to protect them from the virus.” And while Congress has passed an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus bill, none of that money goes directly to first responders for the protective gear and supplies, according to ProPublica

These shortages only add to an already massive challenge facing first responders. That’s why it’s especially important for you to focus on another, less discussed aspect that enables you to be effective and sustain yourself in this moment: protecting your mental health. 

The nature of your work as first responders leaves you particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges, including PTSD, acute stress and depression, according to The Journal of Individual Psychology. And many feel a stigma about requesting the support they need.

So as more and more is being asked of coronavirus first responders, it’s not only essential that you have access to the mental health resources you need but also that you shift your mindset away from self-stigma about voicing your own needs and fears, to giving yourself permission to take care of yourself.

In an article in Fortune, Arianna Huffington and Michelle Williams, dean of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School Public Health, write, “There’s a reason that in-flight safety presentations always instruct us to secure our own oxygen masks before assisting fellow passengers. We can’t help others effectively unless we first protect ourselves.” 

Here are a few Microsteps to support this crucial mindset shift. These steps may seem small — and that’s the point — but they can provide powerful moments of perspective and relief in the midst of stressful situations.

If you catch yourself saying you’re unable to practice self-care, pause and choose a new mindset. There’s nothing selfish about taking care of your basic needs. Per SAMHSA guidelines, it’s essential to recognize that your stress management must come first. Shift your self-talk to something like, “When I take care of myself in small ways, I can be my best self to take care of patients.”

Set aside a few minutes of recovery time after a challenging moment. Instead of returning immediately to your work, take a short walk or a few minutes of conscious breathing. Consciously building in just a few minutes helps you to collect your thoughts, recharge, and bounce back from any challenges.

When you receive a notification that causes stress, pause and focus on inhaling for five seconds and exhaling for five seconds. Conscious breathing activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for lowering cortisol and overall level of inflammation.

Click here for information about how Thrive Global is supporting our healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, and find out how you can support the cause by donating to #FirstRespondersFirst.


  • Gregory Beyer

    Director of Content Strategy, Thrive Global

    Greg is Thrive Global’s Director of Content Strategy. Previously, he worked at The Huffington Post as senior editor to Arianna Huffington, while also overseeing features coverage. Greg studied English and creative writing at Colgate University and journalism at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. His writing and reporting have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times.