Firefighters have a responsibility towards the society’s safety and wellbeing, considering that firefighters are the first to respond to any critical incident. Firefighter’s responsibility is not limited to combating and preventing fires, but it encompasses tasks like providing support during natural disasters, terrorist attacks, accidents, etc.
We consider firefighters as real-life superheroes – saving people’s lives from dangerous conditions. However, what we don’t know is that their job is extremely stressful. They perform their occupational duties in difficult, unpredictable circumstances, and this exposes them to severe stress.
According to an ambulatory assessment study done with on-duty firefighters, working in high-stress level situations come with amplified risks of cardiovascular problems and work-related illnesses. In this blog, we identify warning signs, sources, and effects of stress, and provide tips for stress management.
Warning Signs of Stress
The American Institute of Stress discusses stress as an indicator that something may not be right with your health. The best approach is to slow down in professional and personal life and approach a healthcare provider. Below are some warning signs of stress:
Physical: diarrhea, headache, upset stomach, tiredness.
Emotional: irritability, anxiety, inability to make decisions, sadness
Behavioral: sleep issues, overeating, increased consumption of alcohol and drugs, lack of interest
Job–Related: being argumentative, tardiness, change in performance, excessive calling in sick
Sources of Stress
When you’re a firefighter, you have to be responsive and ready for duty all the time. While single, many firefighter’s love their job as they have a team which they consider their family and spend most of their time (sometimes 24-hour shifts) with them. However, their spouses, who are not a part of emergency services, feel like they’re single parents and resent being stuck at home and doing chores while the other is on shift. It becomes stressful to manage a work-life balance and find reliable daycare services for 24-hour long shifts. Working long shifts can take a toll on relationships too.
Studies show that a significant percentage of firefighters are chronically sleep-deprived. Sleep is an essential element of your daily life as it rejuvenates your mind and destresses you. The lack of quality sleep over an extended period can result in physical illnesses, including problems with the immune system and frequent accidents, and mental illnesses like mood swings and poor decision making.
Firefighting is a strenuous job and requires prompt and undivided attention. Therefore, when technical issues (gear that doesn’t fit, tools that don’t work and aren’t replaced) arise, they can stress out firefighters. As a result, firefighters can bring in feelings of resentment towards their supervisors for not caring about those who are working in the field.
Well-trained firefighters are confident in their abilities to respond to critical situations and make the right decision. However, the ones who don’t have adequate training to respond and rescue, feel stressed out in situations when they see their teammates working zealously. As a result, performance anxiety may hold them back when action is needed in the case of an emergency.
Bad Crew Members
Firefighting requires long working shifts. You’re stuck with the same people for 12, 24, and sometimes 48 hours. Having crew members who are a pain to work with can take a toll on your mental well-being and stress you out over time. The crew’s behavior may not be something extreme and be limited to dorm snoring, bad breath, extreme political views, etc. However, if a team cannot work through its differences, the result can be a source of dread and stress before every work shift.
There are co-workers whose focus is to make your life miserable by calling you out on every action of yours. It ranges from hurtful jokes to outright harassment. Firefighting is a stressful job as is, and if it’s topped with malicious co-workers, the stress levels can exponentially rise, and a person can dread to even go to work.
It’s common in every profession. If employees trust their leaders, they feel more secure. When firefighters have faith in their leaders and know that they will make decisions with everyone’s best interest in mind, they see their leaders as role models. However, when trust and respect are not present due to poorly behaving managers, the entire team can be stressed.
In an organization, policies are created to maintain consistency in operations and decisions. But when policies are applied unevenly, based on individual preferences, then one can’t predict what will happen in a given circumstance – leading to stressful working conditions.
Bad emergency calls can take a toll on a firefighter’s mental well-being. They can range from a teenager beaten to death by an abusive parent, the sight of a body fallen from the 12th story of a building, and the smell of a badly burnt person.
Effects of Stress
The stress of being a firefighter has many physical and emotional effects. Everyone processes stress differently. Some of the effects, as documented by the American Psychological Association, include but are not limited to divorce, depression, alcohol or substance abuse, financial hardships, gambling, poor work habits, cardiac disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Stress is part of the job, but if not addressed promptly and adequately, it can be detrimental towards your mental and physical well-being. Therefore, firefighters need to practice self-care. Below are some healthy ways to destress and engage in self-care.
Always stay hydrated and consume a balanced diet. Next time you’re stressed, eat a banana. The potassium content in it will regulate your blood pressure. An adequate amount of water will flush out stress-related toxins, and the right food will give you energy to tackle the day’s challenges.
Get your daily physical exercise – be it a game of basketball, a few laps of swimming, or your morning run. The endorphins can rid your body of toxins and enable you to fight stress.
Make sure that you’re getting quality sleep. Your body heals during your sleep, so it’s essential to stay away from caffeine and other stimulants before going to bed so that you destress in your deep slumber.
Yoga may not be your cup of tea, but it comes with a long list of benefits that help your body unwind. If you can’t fit in a session of yoga, a simple breathing exercise may help balance blood oxygen levels and destress you.
Laughing is the best stress reliever. It can boost your immune system and reduce tension – positively impacting your physical and mental health.
Take time to engage in activities that you enjoy and spend some time with yourself. Whether it’s spending time with your friend’s or painting in solitude – do what allows your mind to relax.
Being a firefighter is rewarding, and if you’re a part of FDNY, then it comes with a lot of rewards. If you’re planning to join the New York State civil services and have to prepare for the NYC Civil Service exam, read the requirements and register with Civil Services Success today. We have been training people to appear for civil service exams for the past forty-five years, and we offer the best preparation for you to land a job that you truly desire.