6 Ways Firefighters Can Combat Stress

Firefighting has evolved over the centuries of its history. We’ve done things a little differently, but mostly we’ve kept culture and tradition exactly the same since our foundations. I don’t have to preach to you that stress, mental health and lifestyle are things we need to improve: you’re already reading this article.

That being said, here are a few ways we can shake off the stress and do it in a healthy way.

Sleep

Sleepless woman suffering from insomnia, sleep apnea or stress. Tired and exhausted lady. Headache or migraine. Awake in the middle of the night. Frustrated person with problem. Alarm clock with time.

Decreased sleep, or poor quality sleep, causes increased stress levels. The crappy part is, increased daily stress leads to poor quality sleep or difficulty falling asleep.

This is a classic “easier said than done”, but there are ways to get better sleep when you’re stressed out. We have an entire guide on this if you’re having trouble . There are some common sense tactics and some that you may not have heard of, so check it out

[7 tips for first responders to get better sleep]

The hormones that decrease your stress are optimized when you get deep sleep. Good sleep, consistently, is one of the best ways to combat the emotional feeling of being stressed along with all of the damage that excess stress causes on your immune system and organs.

Dietfoods containing Omega 3 fatty acids

It wouldn’t be a complete list of dealing with a physiological issue if we didn’t put “diet” on here, right?

It’s true though, your diet makes or breaks you. Your cells are repaired and replaced by what you eat and drink. Stress will strain your immune system and increase free radicals. You need a constant source of healthy foods to combat both of these negative effects.

  • For immunity (according to Healthline):
    • Citrus, bell peppers, broccoli, garlic, ginger, spinach are some good examples
  • Antioxidants (according to WebMD):
    • Grapes, blueberries, nuts, sweet potatoes, orange veggies, beans and fish are just a few powerful ones
  • For decreasing stress hormones
    • Pistachios, dark chocolate, fatty fish, a bed time snack

The idea behind the above foods are to reduce stress hormones like cortisol, and increase happy hormones in your body like serotonin and anadamide. These hormones help you sleep better too (you’re already fixing item #1!)

Body Mindfullness

What is body mindfullness?

This is a broad term for being aware of your physical self and how it can be reacting to your stress. Pay attention to these cues and work to correct them.

  • Feeling tension in your neck or back? Stretch.a man seated meditating next to a woman squatting with a kettle bell
  • Feeling anxious? Use deep breathing and/or meditation.
  • Is your mind racing? Try yoga.

Taking your physical cues into consideration is important. Even though your mind may be causing feelings of stress, your body’s reaction to it will contribute to increased feelings of stress and then it becomes a cycle.

Engage Your Peers

Stress related to the job should be initially addressed on the job. But, not everyone wants to open up to the guys/girls at the firehouse. It’s important to bring your crew or other members of your agency that you trust in. Talk about what’s causing your stress even if you think there is no solution. Sometimes sharing it is the best thing you can do.

For instances where you don’t want to bring this stuff up to those on the job with you, notify your peer support team yourself and if you don’t have one, there are a ton of great organizations to reach out to.

Here are some great ones:

  1. Next Rung: a firefighter-led free peer support organization
  2. Share the load– The fire and EMS help line
  3. IAFF center of excellence

If you’re reading this article, you’re on the right track. Take it one step further and talk to someone on your truck or in your station as well otherwise you’re only doing this halfway for yourself.

Off-The-Job Hobbya silhouette of a man sitting on a dock holding a fishing pole

A lot of guys and girls on the job love the job and you should. This is the best job in the world, but you need to separate as well. If you don’t have anything else to occupy your mind, the stresses from work will never be able to be shed from your mind.

Fishing, working out, hunting, reading, something. Especially if it gets you outside, but really anything that forces your mind to concentrate on the task at hand.

If you’re not sleeping well or having a hard time dealing with personalities in the firehouse and then you go in your off time to teach at the academy, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Self-care needs to be a top priority in your life.

CBD

Better sleep, reduced stress hormones, decreased feelings of anxiety are all things that CBD has been researched to be effective with.

Sleep is one of the biggest issues with firefighters and first responders. But, how do we sleep more when we’re stressed? How to we become less stressed if we can’t sleep more?

CBD raises levels of serotonin and anandamide. Both are “feel good” hormones and assist with REM sleep. Anandamide leads to decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. We can write an entire article on the benefits of CBD and sleep, the physiological response behind it and why it benefits firefighters. But, we’ve saved that for other articles.

A simple google search of “CBD and sleep” will show you more research than you likely have time to read. This is a powerful piece to the puzzle of slaying your stress.

CONCLUSION

You can’t pick just one of these things and think it will melt the stress off of your shoulders. You need to attack stress from every angle and determine the root cause. There are so many factors that will cause your stress, this list is mostly to help you cope with the factors that are out of your control. If anything in your life is causing you stress that you can affect, go change it.

Talk to that person, correct the issue, study for that promotional exam (or stop studying). Do what you have to do, because it absolutely affects your health in the long run.

 

If you found this helpful, comment below and share with another brother or sister that would get value out of this!

a short bio of Jon Vought

Managing stress needs to be a multi-faceted approach. Diet, sleep, body mindfullness and engaging your peers are some of the best tactics you can employ in your stress management as a firefighter or first responder

While there aren’t any raw numbers on how many firefighters receive stress on the job, it’s estimated between 7-37% of firefighters meet the criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD. Stress, in general, is a contributing factor to PTSD

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The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines what criteria must be met to be diagnosed with PTSD by a professional

No cure exists, only treatments. The underlying causes of PTSD need to be understood and addressed, so treatments are based around understanding the patient and what may have caused PTSD

No. Depression can be one of the many things you’re battling with PTSD, but they’re not the same. PTSD needs to be diagnosed by a professional based on multiple criteria and is usually tracked to traumatic events. Depression can occur without such an event.

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