Serving your community as a fire fighter/paramedic is both a stressful and rewarding job that puts great strain on your physical health, mental health and relationships. To thrive today, tomorrow and well into retirement, prioritize these strategies for self-care now:
Find a daily diversion for stress. Choose something enjoyable that helps you unplug and do it daily. Twenty minutes of your favorite hobby, music, sports or playing with your dog can go a long way. Both purposeful and mindless activities have a role to play in creating a mental buffer against the impact of cumulative stress.
Stay connected. The role of your support system in coping with personal and occupational stress cannot be overstated. While isolation may seem more comfortable in times of severe stress, good relationships with your crew, family and friends are essential to your longevity in the highly stressful occupation you have chosen. Don’t wait until you are in crisis to develop supportive relationships.
Get moving. Exercise not only releases feel-good endorphins (chemicals in the brain), but has been shown to reduce rumination, improve confidence and strengthen socialization. Do not assume because you are a fire fighter that you are exempt from a daily exercise routine. Start simple and consider using an accountability partner.
Ensure proper food and fluid intake. A balanced diet and adequate hydration is essential to your daily functioning, mood and cognition. Start each day with a healthy breakfast, plenty of vegetables and whole grains, and be sure to drink enough water throughout the day by carrying a bottle with you.
Balance busy time with down time. While many fire fighters work two jobs, do charity work or have other civic engagements, too much activity can become an effective but unhealthy strategy to avoid feeling anything. Try to schedule at least one day a week of mostly down time, where you can rest, process and recuperate.
Assume personality responsibility. Regardless of your specific circumstances, only you can take charge of your well-being and self-care. Decades of research on trauma survivors has identified the willingness to assume personal responsibility for one’s well-being as a key predictor of resilience in the aftermath of severe trauma and adversity.
Challenge stinking thinking. We each have a daily internal dialogue or “self-talk” that unconsciously impacts our mood, functioning, social interaction and behavior. Especially during difficult times, we tend to think in overly negative, simplistic and dysfunctional ways. While attempting to always think positively may be unrealistic, you can learn to catch unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more balanced, rational ideas.
Know when to ask for help. Feeling persistently agitated, hopeless or apathetic toward daily life is not a normal part of working hard or getting older. These experiences may be symptoms of a treatable behavioral health problem that requires attention. Know the warning signs and when it’s time to ask a peer, loved one or healthcare provider for help.
Sometimes your best efforts to cope will still fall short. If you are struggling to function at work or home, it’s time to ask for help. The IAFF Center of Excellence is a comprehensive residential treatment center designed exclusively for IAFF members struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complicated grief, substance abuse and other co-occurring behavioral health problems. To determine what level of treatment may be right for you, reach out to a representative today for a free, no-obligation, and confidential screening.
If you’re not ready to call the IAFF Center of Excellence, consider the additional 24/7 toll-free crisis hotlines:
CALL the Firestrong 24/7 Firefighter Family Crisis Support Line: 1-844-525-3473
CALL the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
TEXT “CONNECT” to 741741 to connect with the Crisis Text Line