February 08, 2021

By Kathy Sullivan, MAAT, REACE

Who really wants to “practice” self-care? It can feel like just another task to put on our to-do list. However, preventative care is an essential element to protect emergency services professionals from the potentially damaging effects of what they regularly witness.

If self-care sounds tedious and boring, then consider incorporating the creative arts into your resiliency strengthening regimen. The creative arts have proven to be an effective processing tool for stress, trauma and physiological regulation. The ultimate goal behind focusing on self-care with emergency services personnel is to manage and decrease the cumulative stress, to keep our heroic men and women fit for the fight. So why not have some fun while we strengthen our minds, bodies and spirits?

Here are several ways to incorporate the act of creation to practice self-care.

If you like to doodle then try to do it more often and intentionally. Did you know that doodling can have a meditative effect on the mind and body? Doodling is a perfect act to do if you’re feeling stressed or anxious. If you don’t know where to begin, start by drawing a meaningful word. Fill in your word with different lines, shapes or marks until the space is completely filled. Add color if you desire. Search online for “mandala making” and “zentangle making” if you would like to dive deeper into this cool form of meditation. There is no wrong way to doodle!

Music is powerful. How many times have you been in a certain mood and then a song comes on and your mood instantly changes? Music has a visceral effect and has the power to calm, energize and heal. Choose some of your favorite music and take time to tune in. Choose your feel-good music after a bad call or a bad day to intentionally replace certain sounds. For an added benefit, tap your hands or feet to the beat. Dance, sing or even take a class. Become immersed and appreciate that this act is strengthening your resilience, which will only make you stronger for the job.

If you like to cook, then try to cook with intention and purpose. (Play your favorite music while cooking!) For those who feel that cooking is a chore, make an attempt to change your frame of mind from I need to cook to I get to cook. Try to use your senses as much as you can and honor the fact that you are creating something that is not only good for processing stress, but will also feed your soul. Smell the different aromas. Feel the different textures of the food. See the variety of colors. Listen to the chopping or sizzling of your dish complimented by your chosen background music. Taste your creations. Cooking is a full sensory experience, so try it just one night with the full intention of becoming absorbed in the process.

You can step up these suggestions by including your partner, spouse or children, which will also promote family-time, bonding and stress relief. In order to manage life and death situations as first responders, you already have strong creative muscles. So let’s have fun and flex them a bit further.


Kathy Sullivan, MAAT, REACE, is a professional artist and co-founder of the Ashes2Art program. Ashes2Art is a non-profit organization offering creative arts services to emergency services personnel and their families as part of a preventative wellness initiative. The mission to offer creation to counterbalance destruction has proven to be a fun natural approach to strengthen first responder resiliency. To learn more about free art classes for emergency services personnel please go to: www.ashes2art.org

Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).