Many non-responders do not understand the toll that being a first responder can take on the mind and body. The stress of being “the one” the public turns to when their worst fears are being realized around them has ill effects, whether a responder wants to admit it or not. This means that taking the time to put safeguards and habits into your life to manage stress is vital for your health and the wellbeing of your family and friends around you.
Here are six ways that first responders can help manage and reduce stress.
- Take time off. One of the things that drives first responders is their commitment to their communities and their core belief that they were called to serve others and make a difference where they live. When you have that kind of calling in your life, you tend to want to be there to fulfill it, and it’s hard to take time away, because of your passion to serve. However, it’s vital that you take time away from the stressful grind of the job and allow your body and mind to refocus and heal.
- Leave work at work. It’s hard at the end of your work day not to think about what you’ve experienced during your shift. The problem is that you can still have the impact of the stress of the moment lingering on your mind and body when you revisit traumatic situations. Develop a system where you can put your work in a box at the end of the day and refuse to allow yourself to start thinking about something bad that happened or about preparing for an emergency you might face in your next shift.
- Exercise. While your job requires physical health and strength, there are additional benefits to exercise that can help you manage the stress of your work. Exercise releases endorphins that have been medically shown to improve mood, decrease irritability, and help the mind concentrate on tasks. A regular exercise program such as jogging or cycling can make a tremendous impact on stress management.
- Create boundaries and realize that it’s all right to say “no.” No matter where you work, there is always one more thing to do or one more task that pops up at the last minute. Your natural tendency to want to help others can be used against you when these situations arise, because the boss will ask you to work late for “just this one little thing…” Learn that it’s all right for you to tell the boss no sometimes because you know you need the break or you need to put your family first.
- Choose to eat healthier foods and avoid excessive amounts of fast food. Sure, many times you have to eat on the run because of the number of calls you face during your shift. That still doesn’t mean it’s all right to pile on the carbs and sugar and unhealthy fats from processed fast food every time you need to eat. Not only does eating that food on a regular basis negatively impact your overall health, fast foods can increase irritability, lower energy, and even affect your ability to concentrate. Drink water instead of soda or coffee and eat balanced meals.
- Seek counseling or attend a support group. Many responders avoid counseling or support groups because of their fear that it makes them appear weak to ask for some help or to lean on someone else with their struggles. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Talking to a counselor or discussing struggles with your peers can help you find ways to counter stress, ways that may have never entered your mind, and shows others that you’re serious about being the best you can be as a first responder and as a person.
While these are not everything you can do to help reduce and manage stress, making these six suggestions a part of your life will help you find that place where you can excel at your job without having it take over your life, making you a better family member, co-worker and neighbor.
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