Life Balance: 5 Tips for Reducing Stress

December 31, 2018

Los Angeles City firefighters might be the best trained first responders in the nation. Being the best, however, can come at a high price. Along with the shining reputation is the dim reality of the job: long hours away from home, hectic training schedules, and the day-to-day dangers of the job. And although most firefighters won’t admit it, there is one more danger inherent to their job that even they remain ill-equipped to deal with—stress.

What is Stress?
Stress is a silent danger. Too much stress, too often, can reduce performance and impact your health. It can also take a severe toll on a first responder’s family, which can then bring about its own serious consequences. Work-related stress among firefighters and their families can add to a sometimes already overwhelming burden on a marriage or family relationship and this can carry back over to the station and result in impairment for firefighters to perform their job in a safe and effective manner.

Simply put, stress is about your attitude and perception. You can choose to bring two attitudes to a situation: a positive attitude or a negative attitude. You can change your life by changing your attitude. Perception is how we personally process and interpret the events in our lives. The main reason some people cope with stress better than others has to do, to some extent, with perception. How you perceive or view a situation is everything. It’s not the situation that generates your stress; it’s the meaning you place on the situation. Some common symptoms of stress include: emotional effects, such as depression, irritability, and hopelessness; physical effects, such as diarrhea, ulcers, increased blood pressure, insomnia, and heart attacks; and social effects, such as isolating oneself, emotional detachment, suspiciousness, cynicism, increased sick days, and suicide.

According to Krystle Madrid, Fire Psychologist of the LAFD Behavioral Health Program, “We all experience stress from time to time. While stress is a response, burnout is the accumulation of excessive stressors over time. Burnouts occur when we feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. It is a cycle of negative emotions and withdrawal resulting from investing too much emotionally or physically without doing anything to restore yourself. Burnout doesn’t go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes in your life. If you do notice that you have been acting out of character lately then it may be time to start assessing your work-life balance or speaking to a professional.”

Stress Less
Stress management programs are a step in the right direction, but firefighters must be proactive with their own stress management. To do this, you must be armed with information and practical ideas to mitigate stress in order to stress less or balance out the stress in your life and career.

The term “stress less” is not a vague term without meaning or thought. Quite the contrary. The term specifically refers to: being prepared for stress, increasing your tolerance to stress, and practicing stress-minimizing activities on a daily basis. The first step toward balancing your stress is to learn how to recognize the signs of stress. The second is to take the proper steps to replenish and care for yourself by adopting positive lifestyle habits.

Maintain and Use Personal Resources
Everyone needs a strong social support network, such as family, friends, clergy, or a professional counselor. People from your community are in the best position to recognize your unique signs of stress. In other words, this support group will likely tell you when you look a wreck or seem overwhelmed.

Avoid Chemical Fixes
Using alcohol to relax, sleeping pills to sleep, or other forms of medication to cope with stress will not reduce stress in the long run. These types of chemical fixes can lead to dependence, adding a host of new problems. Chemical intake impairs your judgement and ability to truly cope with stress.

Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is a great way to counter stress stored in your body. One study showed that 60 percent of clinically depressed people who took a brisk 30-minute walk or jog at least three times a week were no longer depressed after 16 weeks. Add movement to your life; movement is essential for optimal health.

Get Enough Sleep
Too little sleep will make any adult act like a tall two-year-old. Inadequate sleep will take its toll on your motivation, energy, and attitude. Adequate sleep will allow you to better cope with stress.

Being a Los Angeles City firefighter is, and always will be, a tough and stressful job. In this ever-changing, politically-charged world, there appears to be even more severe sources of stress for us. Firefighters are not fireproof when it comes to stress, but they can take steps to balance their life and, in turn, reduce their stress.

By Dan Jordan and John Hicks

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