Grounding Technique For First Responders

Grounding technique for first responders

Despite the best intentions from our departmental leadership, HR and wellness advocates, we’re sometimes not equipped with actual tools for self-rescue. The flyers and e-mail attachments are useful, I guess, but I’m interested in actual techniques that people can adopt, employ and engage with. We need real-world tactics to help us decompress. I picked this grounding technique up while researching ideas for our post-Jiu-Jitsu mindset development exercise.

The thing that really speaks to me about this technique is that it is transferable. You could use this for yourself after a difficult call or an argument with your spouse. You can also use this to help comfort somebody else who may be experiencing distress.

So, here’s how it works;

TLDR: Isolate three things you can see, three things you can feel and take three big, deep, breaths. 

This technique can help people focus on the present moment, which allows for a little bit more room for other coping strategies. So, this would be a useful thing to plug into if you’re just getting back on the truck after a VSA – but it would also be a great thing to coach a victim through to help decompress some of the psychological hardship in the middle of a call.

First, you’re going to find three things you can see and say each one out loud. You don’t have to intently focus on each one. Also, you don’t have to blast through the list with the first things that are in front of your face. That’s the beauty of this exercise. It’s up to you.

Find three things you can see. Say them out loud.

Next, tune in just a small percentage more than you already are. Feel your body against the chair you’re in. Note the way your sweater hangs off of your forearms. Sense the tightness of your shoes.

Physically feel three things. Say them out loud.

Finally, take three big, deep breaths.

Here, I like to use ‘belly breathing’. To work through this, place a hand on your chest and one hand on your belly – it works best if you’re laying down, but can be done in practically any position. Offer a little resistance on your belly. This allows you to focus your deep inhalations into your diaphragm as opposed to shortening your breath with your chest.

Another way to explore belly breathing is by trying to ‘fill up’ your belly with air as you breathe in. Once your belly is ‘full’, focus on breathing ‘into’ your chest and finally, into your throat. This process should help you breathe a little slower and, alongside the previous focus points, is a data-driven method for battling unhelpful thoughts and feelings.

The ‘333 Rule’ is a time-proven tool for learning how to decompress. It’s a helpful method for in-the-moment coaching that first responders can step their patient’s through, but it’s also a back-pocket secret weapon for battling your own difficult moments. This technique is something you can pick up and start using today – or better yet, introduce to other members of your team to build out capacity in a real and measurable way.

This blog was created by Bill Dungey, Social Service Worker and volunteer firefighter. Bill is also the owner of SIXFEET, a non-profit organization that  endevours to equip first responders with training and information toward personal development and operational readiness. 

For more information about how Bill can support you, call us at 519.302.2300 or email