The buildup of chronic stress in the lives of first responders can exact a very heavy toll - mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. These 12 tips can offer some strategies to improve your stress fitness and help make you more resistant to the effects of stress, and more resilient when a major stressful event occurs. Here you go:
- Exercise regularly. Stay active, and follow a regular exercise program each week. Your physical fitness will go a long way toward building up your stress fitness as well.
- Eat right. 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.
- Avoid smoking. About 16-17% of first responders smoke cigarettes. 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.
- Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine. Enjoying an adult beverage in moderation and having a limited number of caffeinated beverages a day may not be harmful, but excessive consumption of either will lessen your resistance to stress.
- Relax. Take regular breaks during the day, and take regular days off to relax. The old "all work and no play" adage really is true. Learn and practice some techniques to initiate the body's natural relaxation response.
- Let go of the past. People often carry hurts from the past along with them. Instead, let go of those things and set your mind on the promise of the future.
- Have faith. Our research shows that individuals who actively practice some type of faith are significantly less likely to suffer from the effects of stress. Find and engage in a spiritual practice that helps bring you a sense of peace.
- Set goals. Whether it is short-term or long-term goals, being future-oriented makes a difference when it comes to responding to the effects of stress.
- Express yourself appropriately. Learn positive ways to express your feelings. Stress often causes us to behave in ways that hurt others, so expressing ourselves appropriately is key to handling difficult situations and people.
- Strengthen your primary relationship. Whether it is a spouse or other partner, you should place a high value on that relationship and always take steps to keep improving it.
- Find purpose. Working as a first responder is hard, but you sought out that work because you believed there was a great purpose behind it. If you have lost it, focus on finding it again.
- Network. Make sure you are connected to a close network of family and friends who will support you emotionally and love you unconditionally.
If you are struggling under the unique pressures of the job, and just need someone to chat with, please reach out by sending a message to m.me/callforbackup.org/ or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You don't have to walk a difficult path alone . . . and we are here for family members of first responders, too!