Our profession is unique. It is wonderful and stressful. You are going to experience fear, discomfort, confrontation, excitement, pain, and confusion. The stress that comes with the experiences is inevitable. If you do not deal with these emotions properly, you can develop unhealthy coping mechanisms that may deteriorate you over time. Some of these habits are obvious, while others are subtle. Regardless, you are impacted by the experiences you have as a firefighter, and it is essential to develop healthy habits for addressing these stresses.
STRESS MANAGEMENT PLAN
When it comes to any issue, you need to have a management plan. This is evident in the way you perform during emergencies or even at the firehouse. You need to be ready for the inevitable stresses of the profession with a stress management plan. Now, is every person in the fire service the same? Of course not. Is every stress management plan going to be the same? Of course not. You need to find the specifics that are meaningful to you.
To assist you in finding those specifics, below are some guidelines that have been helpful to so many. Within those guidelines, you’ll find specifics that are unique to me, but I invite you to explore how these guidelines can help you. Regardless, be sure to find healthy ways to process the stresses of our profession and be recovered!
You need to be honest! You have thoughts and emotions. Some may be stronger for you than others, but you have them, regardless. If you fail to acknowledge this fact, you will not recover. When it comes to thoughts and emotions, the first thing you need to be is honest.
When I go to a chaotic scene, there is a flood of thoughts and emotions. These thoughts and emotions can push and pull my mind, mood, and motives in different directions. Sometimes they push and pull harder than others but, nonetheless, they can make me unbalanced if I’m not aware of them. While these emotions, and sometimes thoughts, are not bad, it’s understanding them as a natural process that comes with the experiences we have.
To that, we need to find appropriate times to be honest with these thoughts and emotions. When done in a controlled and healthy environment, it allows you to begin the healing process in a healthy way. Some ways you can be honest with your thoughts and feelings that have been helpful include the following:
• Sitting and breathing: Allow the thoughts to go free, but continue to come back to breathing.
• Journaling: Write out every thought and feeling in shorthand, even if illegible and messy.
• Remembering: Revisit those experiences—this can be good if you return to where you actually are in life. This will help you process anything that may not be fully relieved.
To be honest is the first step. However, it is only the first step. After you have taken time to be honest, you need to be open.
Thoughts and emotions are neither right nor wrong but can be healthy and unhealthy. They can encourage you to make good decisions or bad decisions. While you first need to be honest, you also need to be open. By taking time to be open, you’ll be integrating those you trust and respect into your life while avoiding the unhealthy isolation and seclusion that can be common when dealing with stress.
|Family can be a great resource because of the history and your shared experiences. (Photos by author.)|
Marie Ponder is my amazing wife. Being together for more than 14 years has been amazing. She has come to understand and respect the fire service and the situations we deal with. She has seen me at my best. She has seen me at my worse. Within all of that, I trust her entirely in a way that allows me to be open with her. I have the privilege of sharing thoughts and feelings with her in a way that continues to make us a healthier and stronger couple. Taking time to be open with Marie has been critical for me.
To be open is about helping you be with those you trust, have your best interest in mind, and will support you while challenging you to be better. While my wonderful wife Marie is the perfect example of someone I fully trust, some examples of others who may be the right ones for you to be open with include the following:
• Family: Family can be a great resource because of the history and your shared experiences.
• Friends: Those you have chosen to be in your life can be great because of the respect you share.
• Professionals: Friends and family are amazing, but they most likely don’t have the expertise you need. Your department most likely has various professional resources it can provide you with to help.
To be honest and to be open can be challenging; however, they are essential to helping you move forward. But moving forward needs to be more than words. It needs to be definitive and expressive. It needs to be an outward means of helping you progress. You need to be productive.
It is important to be honest and be open, but it is too easy to just stop there. If this happens, you simply stop; you stop growing and developing and become stagnate. Proper stress management means having a plan that will allow you to continue progressing forward. Again, it’s important to take time to process thoughts and emotions, but there is going to come a time that you need to be productive. You need to return to creating, building, and producing things with meaning. Finding something you enjoy is the most beneficial way to do that. Some of the enjoyable ways for me to be productive to move forward in a healthy way include the following:
• Play music: I’ve played the drums for 18 years, and it continues to be a great means to express myself in a way that is spontaneous and fun.
• Help others: Studies show that when people who are recovering from a challenging experience begin to help others who are less fortunate than them, the physical, emotional, and mental symptoms of “pain” subside more quickly.
• Firefighter health and fitness: Firefighter health and fitness is the greatest means of expressing my passion for firefighters over the past 14 years. By helping firefighters and fire departments move, feel, and perform better, I have had the privilege to help firefighters in a way that doesn’t end with their shift. It has been an honor to not only help firefighters across the country be healthier but also to share with them these principles of continuing forward despite challenges but through fitness in a way that produces long lasting growth and progress.
You are going to experience challenges in your career—it is inevitable. However, you can be prepared for this by having a recovery plan prepared. While recovery plans are unique to you, I’m happy to provide you with the framework that has helped me: to be honest, be open, and be productive. It’s from there that you can continue moving forward despite the challenges you face in a way that allows you to be dynamic!