5 Stress-Busting Activities for Firefighters
A first responder’s job is inherently stressful. From those dangerous and upsetting calls that you just can’t shake, to the interrupted sleep of shift work… it’s not surprising that fire fighters and EMTs are especially prone to work-related stress.
In fact, recent studies are revealing that firefighters are disproportionately affected by Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), leading fire agencies to proactively look for ways to battle the rise in stress. Many departments are working to improve workplace efficiencies to lighten the load on firefighters after calls, such as improved reporting software that cuts down on paperwork and wasted time completing ePCRs. Others are proactively reaching out to crew members who have been involved in particularly upsetting, dangerous, or frequent calls to encourage more communication.
That said, a certain amount of stress-reduction responsibility can be handled by individual firefighters themselves, and there are numerous ways to quickly and easily reduce stress levels, even while on your shift at the firehouse. Below are five of the easiest stress-busting activities that anyone can complete it just minutes.
1. Get Some Exercise
We’re not talking a full-on workout session; a simple walk outside not only can help you shake off the stress but offers a change of scenery and fresh air, all of which have been shown to help break stress. Find a short route near the station that you can lap a couple of times, stretch your legs, and come back with a fresh perspective.
Can’t get out of the station or facing bad weather? These three simple stretches can help instantly boost your relaxation and battle stress levels.
2. Look at Old Photos
Take a break from social media and focus on the best memories from your own life, by scrolling through your own photos, on your phone. Take some time to scroll as far back as you can to remember the happiest and best moments from your own life, and spend some time being intentionally grateful for the good things in your life. As a firefighter, you so often see and deal with some of the worst things that can happen to a person. Replace those images with happier memories and thoughts of good times to come.
3. Chew Some Gum
Surprisingly, a recent study suggests that chewing gum may actually help reduce anxiety, increase alertness, and reduce stress. It’s not exactly clear why chewing gum offers these benefits, but some believe it is a combination of the muscle movement and energy release, along with flavors and textures. So while you may have been taught chewing gum is a bad habit, it can actually be a helpful tool in fighting workplace stress.
Additionally, you may be able to find similar benefits from snacking on other healthy, crunchy snacks, like vegetable sticks or even trail mix. Just be sure to reach for healthier choices in moderation to avoid unwanted sugar and weight-gain.
4. Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation
People with stressful lives are often so tense throughout the day that they don’t recognize what being relaxed feels like. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) involves a two-step process: first, breathing in, you tense a single, particular muscle group in your body, such as your neck and shoulders. After holding for about 5 seconds, breathe out and immediately release the tension. It’s particularly important to notice the difference in feeling between the tense muscles, and how they felt after release. After about 10-20 seconds in this relaxed state, move on to a different muscle group, and repeat the process.
It’s helpful to set aside 15 minutes to go through your whole body. Sitting up while doing so, in a quiet environment, can help you avoid falling asleep. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and remove your shoes. You do not have to feel stressed or anxious to practice this technique; it can be useful at any time of the day and can also help with headaches and improve sleep. There are many guides online available to help you practice PMR.
5. Play Some Brain Games
As a firefighter, your brain and body are constantly exposed to dangerous, stressful situations. Even when you’re safely back in the station, your brain is still triggered by its biological threat response, leaving it on overdrive and setting you up for lingering anxiety, and stress. Recent studies show that giving your brain something else to do – namely engaging in brain games – can shift that energy into something more productive until your stress levels subside. Mental games that require lots of concentration seem to be the most effective in battling anxiety and stress.
It’s important to take your stress levels seriously. Left unchecked, anxiety and stress can take a real toll on your mental state, your job performance, and ultimately, your physical health. Following some of these simple steps may be just what you need to make a difference in your daily life, and keep you performing at the top of your game, and enjoying work and life more fully.