You Can Manage Stress by Avoiding Smoking

A review of the research shows us that overall, about 16-17% of first responders smoke cigarettes. Our own research has about the same result, with an additional 7% of participants stating that they avoid smoking “often,” meaning that they do occasionally smoke.

Research shows that an increase in perceived stress leads to an increase in the dependence on nicotine.  Also, stress levels of smokers are consistently shown to be higher than in nonsmokers.  Mood changes and exacerbation of stress in smokers go hand-in-hand with the daily pattern of smoking cigarettes.  And the greater the level of perceived stress, the more cigarettes per day the person tends to smoke. 

Sadly, because smokers are dependent on nicotine to feel “normal,” it becomes much harder to break that addiction and to get back on the road to better health, physically and emotionally.  During times of stress, smoking a cigarette can feel almost necessary, and because of the physical addiction properties in addition to the social and lifestyle factors associated with smoking, it has been said that quitting smoking can be as difficult as quitting heroin! The physical effects of smoking on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems make it much harder to combat the effects of stress on those same systems. If you smoke, seek help to quit.

Self-Reflection Questions:

  1. Do I smoke to help me cope with uncomfortable situations?
  2. When did I begin to smoke and why?
  3. What am I going to do, today, to kick the habit?

If you’d like to speak to one of our peer support specialists about how to manage the stress of work or life in general, feel free to reach out to us at and someone will be happy to chat with you.  If you are in crisis, please text the keyword BADGE to the National Crisis Text Line where you can be connected to a trained crisis counselor, 24/7/365.  Always free.  Always confidential.

Would you like to help make sure Call for Backup is there for those who reach out to us? Please check out our merchandise in the online store HERE.

You Can Manage Stress with Healthier Eating

One of the most interesting things we discovered in our recent research is that only about one-third of first responders we surveyed said that they eat healthy and nutritionally balanced meals either “often” or “always.”  At the same time, it’s a sad fact that Americans are beset by “the diseases of civilization” – heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Our diet has a lot to do with that, and if you eat balanced, healthy meals, you are setting yourself up to be more resistant to stress.

Are there some “secrets” to eating healthy?  Depends on who is trying to sell you the latest fad diet plan, I suppose.  But you can save money and become healthier by taking control over your menu and its ingredients instead of relying on restaurants and fast food.  Here are some suggestions for getting started.

  • Vary the menu.  Pick up a new cookbook or watch some cooking videos online.  If variety is what you need, realize that it’s in your hands to control.
  • Shop carefully.  Fill your cart with whole foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  Avoid the junk food aisles.
  • Cut down on added sugar and salt and substitute other seasonings like onions, spices, and herbs.
  • Use healthy fats.  Avoid trans fats and eat appropriate amounts of food containing healthier types of fat.
  • Here’s the real “trick” if there is one: Measure your portions.  You can eat most of the foods you really enjoy as long as you consume them in moderation.

While our peer support specialists are not nutrition experts, we can here to chat with you as you struggle with anything that makes it more difficult for you to manage your stress and to build greater stress resilience.  Just send us a message at and someone will be happy to connect with you.

Would you like to help make sure Call for Backup is there for those who reach out to us? Please check out our merchandise in the online store HERE.

You Can Manage Stress with Exercise

Would it surprise you to learn (according to our own research) that only about one-quarter of first responder always or often follow a weekly exercise program?

Some people have found how to get through challenging times by pushing themselves to work out. When you exercise, you have an opportunity to zone out, or have something else to focus on so you can take your mind off difficulties.  So aside from the physical benefits of exercise, there are mental benefits as well.

You don’t have to be an athlete or spend a lot of time in the gym in order to exercise.  Perhaps a morning run, or setting a goal for a certain minimum number of steps you will get in is something that could become part of your routine.  Maybe you can join an exercise class that meets a couple of times a week, or take dance lessons, or commit to practice one of the martial arts.  The obvious point here is that doing something is better than doing nothing.  And our research has revealed that 24% of first responders do not follow any type of weekly exercise plan at all!

Starting today, make room in your life for exercise. It can help to bring balance so you can live a better quality life. And you will likely find that your circumstances seem to improve when you make time for taking care of your mind and body.

Self-Reflection Questions:

  1. What options exist for me to exercise – something I believe I can stick with?
  2. How does long-term exercise help in relieving stress?
  3. Are there other activities can I participate in to balance my life and manage stress?

If you’d like to speak to one of our peer support specialists about how to manage the stress of work or life in general, feel free to reach out to us at and someone will be happy to chat with you.  If you are in crisis, please text the keyword BADGE to the National Crisis Text Line where you can be connected to a trained crisis counselor, 24/7/365.  Always free.  Always confidential.

Would you like to help make sure Call for Backup is there for those who reach out to us? Please check out our merchandise in the online store HERE.

The Healing Power of Sleep

“Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.” – Macbeth

Those who work in emergency services have a constant flow of adrenaline running into their system, and that can have some significant detrimental effects.  The problem is that having that constant presence of adrenaline and other stress-related hormones in our system leads to an actual addiction.  We can’t seem to function without it, but at the same time we know it is slowly killing us.  So, what do we do to combat that addiction?

One word – sleep.  Sleep is the most important component of renewing our bodies on a daily basis.  It has become an issue in modern day America because of our fast-paced society.  Many first responders I’ve talked to seem to wear their lack of sleep as a badge of honor, as if sleeping less means they must be stronger and better at what they do.  They justify it by saying, “I don’t need more than 5 hours of sleep,” which may be true if you also “need” to double your risk for cardiovascular disease and increase your risk of premature death by 24%, because that’s what the research says is going to happen!   The issue is that lack of sleep takes away the recovery time we need to bring our stress levels down.

If you want to follow the best practices for improving your sleep and combating adrenaline addiction, there are several things you need to do:

  • Have a consistent to-bed and wake-up time, even on weekends or days off.  You confuse your brain when you don’t have a consistent sleep pattern.
  • Avoid using electronics before bed, or in bed.  If possible, store them overnight somewhere other than your bedroom.
  • Darkness prompts the brain the rest, so it is best to keep your bedroom as dark as possible.  And don’t try to fall asleep while watching television.
  • Don’t eat anything, and don’t drink alcohol or caffeine within a couple hours of bedtime.  Otherwise, your brain will need to stay active controlling your digestive system.
  • Finally, exercise regularly.  Your brain uses 20% of the oxygen in your blood, and regular exercise keeps oxygenated blood flowing.

I am not a somnologist, so I’m going to keep this explanation as non-clinical as possible.  There are two different types of sleep: non-dream sleep and dream sleep, and dream sleep is when you are getting the most restful, restorative, regenerative sleep.  Each sleep cycle lasts up to 90 minutes.  The first sleep cycle includes 5 minutes of dream sleep, and in each successive sleep cycle the amount of dream sleep increases by 5 minutes.  The “sweet spot” for most people seems to be between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, keeping in mind that only about 20% of that will be the kind of rejuvenating sleep that our body needs.

If you are following the suggestions above and are still having trouble getting your mind to turn off so you can rest, you may need to consult your physician and have a discussion about the problem.  If you are dealing with stress and anxiety in general, reach out to a trusted peer, or contact our peer support specialists at Call for Backup ( and we’d be happy to chat.  Meanwhile, be safe, be well, and get some rest!

Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear, and Uncertainty – Part 5

At times like this, it’s easy to get caught up in your own fears and concerns. But amid all the stories of people fighting over rolls of toilet paper or lining up outside gun stores to arm themselves, it’s important to take a breath and remember that we’re all in this together. As a quote circulating in Italy reminds us: “We’re standing far apart now so we can embrace each other later.”

Help others (it will make you feel better)

It’s no coincidence that those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who act selfishly. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community—and even to the wider world at this time—it can also support your own mental health and well-being. Much of the anguish accompanying this pandemic stems from feeling powerless. Doing kind and helpful acts for others can help you regain a sense of control over your life—as well as adding meaning and purpose.  Even when you’re self-isolating or maintaining social distance, there’s still plenty you can do to help others.

Follow guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, staying at home, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding contact with others can help save the lives of the most vulnerable in your community and prevent overburdening the healthcare system.

Reach out to others in need. If you know people in your community who are isolated—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support. Perhaps an older neighbor needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact. Or maybe they just need to hear a friendly, reassuring voice over the phone. Many local social media groups can help put you in touch with vulnerable people in your area.

Donate to food banks. Panic-buying and hoarding have not only left grocery store shelves stripped bare but have also drastically reduced supplies to food banks. You can help older adults, low-income families, and others in need by donating food or cash.

Be a calming influence. If friends or loved ones are panicking, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumors, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these anxious times can help you feel better about your own situation too.

Be kind to others. An infectious disease is not connected to any racial or ethnic group, so speak up if you hear negative stereotypes that only promote prejudice. With the right outlook and intentions, we can all ensure that kindness and charity spread throughout our communities even faster than this virus.

If you’d like to chat with one of our peer support specialists, feel free to message us a and we will connect with you as quickly as possible.