It goes without saying that physical health and mental health are intricately linked. This is especially true for first responders. The physical effects of your job are known to contribute to the development of cardiometabolic risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. While it’s not possible to eliminate the risk of experiencing these health problems, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.
You already know the importance of good nutrition, exercising regularly and making a concerted effort to get quality sleep. This is not an easy task for public safety professionals, and the negative impacts related to shiftwork make it even harder.
You don’t have to completely alter your habits overnight to improve your health. Rather than overwhelm yourself with unrealistic goals, start with a few small steps. Each step you take leads to improved motivation and healthier habits. If you encounter setbacks, it can be helpful to remember what motivates you. It can also be helpful to find new sources of motivation.
- Be mindful of how your body responds to food and circadian rhythm, particularly on night shifts.
- Pack healthy meals and snacks with sources of protein, fiber, fruits and vegetables. Share meal strategies with peers.
- Organize your nutritional intake and physical activity to pinpoint areas of need and to stay on track with both goals and successes.
- Check out these nutrition tips and resources:
Battling sleep issues adds to your stress. Improving sleep is vital to wellness. Try to keep regular sleep patterns, avoid alcohol, be strategic with caffeine and get regular exercise.
When that’s not enough, explore other resources for information and tips:
Alcohol and Substance Use Resources
It goes without saying that drinking often has a significant part in first responder culture. Alcohol is usually present at off-duty get-togethers, promotion celebrations and retirement parties. It’s also common for first responders to meet up for drinks after work, especially after a particularly rough shift. In many ways, bonding over a drink is a tradition.
Unfortunately, many first responders turn to alcohol and other substances to cope with the stress and trauma they experience on the job. Many use alcohol as a sedative to help them relax and sleep.
While not everyone will develop a substance use disorder, for some, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol can quickly progress to a dangerous dependence and the ripple effects can be devastating. The resources below provide information about substance use disorder and how to get help if you or someone you care about is struggling.
- Learn how alcohol acts in the brain to interfere with sleep and restorative rest. For more information about how alcohol affects every aspect of firefighters' health, check out Alcohol & the Fire Service by the Center for Fire Rescue & EMS Health Research.
- Not sure if you have a substance use problem? You can use this information from the CDC to learn the difference between moderate and excessive drinking.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers services and resources for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. You can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information services. You can also use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to search for a substance use treatment provider in your area.
- The International Association of Fire Fighters hosts free, online alcohol and substance use recovery meetings every Friday and Sunday. You are not required to provide any identifying information or turn on your camera.
- The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery created a guide to help you talk to your children about your substance use disorder and treatment.
- Alcohol Use & Misuse is an app intended for use by volunteer and career firefighters who are interested in learning how to use alcohol in healthy and safe ways.
It can be difficult to break the cycle of substance use and addiction, but recovery is possible.