As a public safety professional, you are already accustomed to stress. While every call or emergency response may not noticeably affect you, daily stress can accumulate, along with the trauma of working in disturbing and often unsafe situations. It can be easy to ignore what may seem like a minor, or an occasional impact — until you realize that the impact is no longer minor.
Resiliency reduces the harmful effects of stress and trauma, acting as a buffer to help you maintain your well-being. Strengthening and adding protective factors, like social support, access to resources and caring for your physical health all serve to help you effectively counteract cumulative stress.
Public safety professionals already know and understand the importance of physical health, but it can be easy to forget the basics when managing a hectic schedule or shiftwork. Mental and physical health are intricately linked, so every step you take for your physical health can also improve your mental health.
Whether you are building your resilience as a preventative measure, or seeking to add to your resiliency skills in new ways, there are many approaches. Before getting into specific strategies, start with these essential steps.
- First and foremost, give yourself a break. Your work is difficult and demanding, and you often witness what is unthinkable to most. It’s normal for stress and trauma to have a negative effect on your health — mentally and physically.
- Recognize what you’re feeling. Identify the emotions: shock, anger, sadness, fear, relief, etc. These are normal responses, and it is ok to feel them, in any combination. Calling them what they are helps you gain perspective on how to address them.
- Identify the symptoms that are bothering you and pay attention to how they are impacting you daily. Then talk to someone about it, whether through peer support or through professional channels.
- Remember that you can respond to trauma in various ways, including mood, sleep and physical symptoms.
- Explore resources and keep track of go-to coping strategies. Every step you take to manage stress and trauma puts you in a powerful position to improve and protect your mental health.
Resiliency Skills and Tools
There are many ways to build resiliency and protect yourself from occupational stress and trauma. You may already have some tried and true strategies, but as you explore these tips and resources, consider how you might include them in your routine.
It’s always helpful to add tools to your toolbox, especially if they’re tools you actually use.
- Identify your sources of strength: family, friends, faith, pets, music or hobbies. Think of ways to incorporate more of what brings you happiness and motivates you.
- Prioritize relationships and be intentional about connecting with people. Social support is a protective factor and connection with others is as fundamental to health and well-being as nutrition and physical activity.
- Even when you feel like being alone, spending time with a friend or family member can boost your mood.
- Take a few minutes to call a friend or loved one.
- Meet a friend for lunch or hit the gym with a co-worker.
- Envision positive outcomes and foster a sense of optimism. This may seem simplistic, but resiliency includes a sense of self-efficacy, optimism, self-esteem and a feeling of personal control and independence.
- How many firemen does it take to....use humor to cope? Most first responders understand that humor is a coping mechanism, but you should also know that it has healthy short and long-term benefits. Listen to a stand-up routine, tell corny jokes with your kids or watch a comedy.
- Set the tone for each day. Take charge of the day from the outset with a healthy and positive habit. It can be five minutes of mindful meditation or prayer, 10 minutes of stretching or even just a few minutes to focus on your goals for the day.
- Limit your media exposure and the amount of time spent on social media to maintain a positive outlook. Continual review of negative stories and outcomes can increase your stress. You might even try doing nothing for two minutes.
- Create a list of strategies for taking care of yourself throughout your shift. You don’t have to be off duty to use stress management skills. Often, even the simplest thing, such as tactical or box breathing, or stepping outside for a break, can make the day seem less stressful.
Keep track of the tips and resources that work for you, as well as a list of things you’re willing to try. Whether or not you find it easy to bounce back after a difficult experience, resiliency is a skill you can learn and enhance. Like any skillset, resiliency requires practice and reinforcement.