Caring for Yourself to Care for Others

Author: IAFF Staff

October 13, 2017

When duty calls, you have to answer. It doesn’t matter if you’re exhausted or afraid your own needs take a back seat to those of others. Many fire fighters describe this priority shift as “just part of the job.” Perhaps you’ve said these words before. But that doesn’t mean you can’t address your own needs after hanging up your gear for the day. You’re not just a fire fighter or first responder; you’re a human being. Your health is just as important as anyone else’s. That means if you’re struggling with substance misuse, a mental health condition or any other issue, it’s OK to take the time to get the help you need, when you need it. Self-preservation and self-care are the only ways you can continue effectively serving others.

Substance use and mental health disorders often impact people in professions that involve rescue and life-or-death situations, including fire fighters and first responders. Military personnel, police officers, EMTs — the list goes on and on. Other physical and mental conditions may also be attached to the life of a fire fighter. Like you, the men and women in these professions have friends and family who love them. You all deserve the time to take care of your personal needs. Here are four ways you can engage in self-preservation so you can more effectively perform the functions of your job and enjoy life outside of the firehouse:

1. Exercise Regularly

One of the best ways to care for yourself is by getting enough exercise, but this can easily fall to the wayside for many people. Exercising regularly helps you maintain the strength you need to handle your everyday activities, both at work and at home. There is a great deal of research indicating that exercise can reduce anxiety while improving overall mood due to the brain’s release of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline. Whether you prefer running, bicycling, weightlifting, yoga or any other exercise, it’s beneficial to include these activities into your weekly schedule. Aim for at least 30 minutes per session and at least three sessions per week.

2. Eat a Healthy Diet

You’ve likely heard this advice since you were a child, and it’s no less important now than it was then. Aside from the obvious benefits to the body, eating a healthy and balanced diet can improve your mental health. This is based on the results of various studies, including one that involved 300 adults who kept food journals over the course of three weeks. They also completed mood-related and psychological ratings. The study found that a higher intake of certain foods like fruits and vegetables results in more energy, calming effects and a greater overall sense of happiness. Some foods and beverages associated with happiness include dark chocolate, green tea, salmon and mushrooms.

3. Find a Hobby

Having a pastime outside of work is a great way to keep your mind occupied with positivity (instead of the stresses of work) when you’re not on the clock. Find something you enjoy doing, and include that activity in your free time as often as possible, or at least once a week. This could include playing sports, antiquing, collecting certain items, reading, wood carving, playing a musical instrument, fishing and making projects at home. If you don’t currently have a hobby, experiment with these and other activities; you won’t know what you might end up liking until you try it. Plus, learning a new skill could create additional benefits for you and your loved ones (aside from just keeping you busy and distracted), such as learning to play the guitar or piano.

4. Seek Professional Help if Necessary

Substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and related conditions are common with fire fighters and others in similar professions. However, not everyone seeks help for these conditions. If you’re suffering from addiction or a mental disorder, now is the time to get help. There’s nothing more important than your health. The IAFF Center of Excellence specializes in treating substance abuse disorders, behavioral health issues and other co-occurring disorders, and treatment is offered exclusively to IAFF members. If you need treatment for any other condition, whether it’s physical therapy or counseling, there are many options available to you. There’s no shame in reaching out, nor are there any consequences, according to IAFF guidelines.

Remember that nothing is more important than your health. If you’re struggling with substance use disorder, PTSD or any related condition, let the professionals at the IAFF Center of Excellence help you get your life back. Treatment programs are customized to meet your specific needs, and all calls are 100 percent confidential.

Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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