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Resilient Responders: Social Support

Dr. James D. Guy
Executive Director & Cofounder, Headington Institute, 2014.


During the past 13 years, we’ve talked with emergency responders worldwide about what they do to maintain their wellbeing.  Our ongoing programmatic research has identified these same factors as vital to emotional resilience, positively impacting brain function and structure.  Here’s what we found: there are four primary ways to build responder resilience.  These are social support, self-efficacy, meaning and purpose, and physical health and fitness.  Let’s focus first on social support.

I’m certain that meaningful relationships with family and friends are the biggest influence on responder resilience.  Having people in your life, who are willing to talk with you anytime of day or night, is essential for maintaining emotional health.  Their love and support help you keep perspective and increase courage and hope.  Although a few loners can make it fine on their own, most of us need people we can rely on to help us be at our best.  Meaningful contact calms the mind and releases chemicals that heal damage done to the brain during a traumatic experience.  Social support is key to our personal resilience.  Anything you do to maintain contact with loved ones will be worth the effort.

Build your resilience ahead of an emergency response by thoughtfully maintaining the quality of your most important relationships.  This will keep your brain at peak efficiency in preparation for your next critical incident or traumatic event.

During an emergency, keep in touch with loved ones.  This will enable your brain to better handle the demands of the situation.  Through brief texts, emails, and calls, periodic contact refuels your mind and soul.  It will remind you of the network of support that is the foundation of your confidence.  Beginning and ending each day with meaningful connections with loved ones, regardless of the nature of the emergency response, allows you to participate in a worthwhile life beyond the difficult time facing you.  This renews your energy and strength by helping your brain “detoxify” recent experiences of stress and trauma.

After an emergency response has ended, adequate social support will be the cornerstone of your trauma recovery.  Talking with trusted individuals concerned about your wellbeing provides an important opportunity to understand and release recent trauma.  Spend time talking with those you enjoy, while avoiding those you don’t.  Share what you’ve learned about resilience and recovery, making loved ones informed partners in your recuperation.  While adequate alone time is important, meaningful connection is even more essential.

Be thankful for the people who love you most.  These relationships give you the fuel necessary to be a resilient emergency responder.


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