As first responders, firefighters repeatedly face job-related stress. They “experience a steady onslaught of trauma and intense human emotion,” according to The Huffington Post. “Perilous flames, collapsing buildings, the anguish of burn victims, explosions, automobile accidents, suicide attempts, and even terrorist attacks…come with the territory.”
It is imperative for firefighters to learn ways to cope with traumatic experiences and manage stress. Not only do their jobs and lives depend on it, but it can also have a negative effect on their health and their relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.
Recognizing the Signs of Job-Related Stress
Short-term stress is a constant in the life of a firefighter. The fight-or-flight response — such as the rush of adrenaline on the way to a call — is a common occurrence. But repeated exposure to trauma can take its toll. If stress goes unmanaged for a long period of time, it can negatively affect a firefighter’s mind, body, mood, and behavior.
To determine whether you’re experiencing chronic stress, you need to be able to recognize the following:
- Mental health symptoms, “such as anxiousness, irritability [and] nervousness or even experience memory and concentration impairments,” according to Firehouse.com.
- Physical health symptoms, including “dizziness, headaches, grinding teeth or clenched jaws, gastrointestinal problems (e.g., indigestion, nausea), muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, excess fatigue, racing heart, weight fluctuation and changes in appetite.”
An important part of managing stress is figuring out what is triggering it. Because firefighters often experience traumatic events, it can be easy to overlook other causes of job-related stress. Here are some examples:
- Long shifts, which can take a toll on relationships, especially those with family members.
- Sleep deprivation, which leads to physical and mental issues, including more frequent accidents and poor decision-making. “Studies show that a large percentage of firefighters are chronically sleep deprived,” according to Firerescue1.com.
- Inadequate training, which may cause new recruits to feel the need to prove themselves and, as a result, put themselves and their fellow firefighters in danger.
- Chronic technical problems, such as broken equipment and ill-fitting gear, can lead to feelings of stress and resentment.
- Spending long shifts with co-workers who have unintentional bad habits, which can build up into real problems.
- Being the target of harassment from malicious co-workers can cause major stress.
- Inconsistent policies and uneven management. If there is evident favoritism among the crew and a lack of predictability, it affects everyone negatively.
- Poor leadership, which can lead to confusion, resentment, and lower morale. Firefighters must respect and trust their leaders and feel secure about the decisions they make.
Tips for Maintaining Firefighter Health and Wellness
Once you have recognized the symptoms and identified the cause of your chronic stress, adaptations to a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep will help mitigate these symptoms.
Practicing muscle relaxation and breathing exercises such as Yoga, which offers both, meditating and praying may also bring relief. Spending time doing things you enjoy, such as hobbies or laughing with friends, can also be beneficial.
Lastly, it may help to talk to someone — your significant other, fellow firefighters or your chief. If you would prefer to get it down on paper, try journaling. If none of these firefighter stress tips seems to work, seek help from a medical practitioner or a mental health professional. Acknowledging that you may need help dealing with job-related stress is an important aspect of self-care.
Anna Maria College is committed to supporting firefighter health and wellness. If you are thinking about advancing your career, consider enrolling in Anna Maria’s Online Bachelor of Science in Fire Science program.
For more information about Anna Maria’s Online BS in Fire Science, contact us today at 877-265-3201 or visit online.annamaria.edu/fire-science.
- Wray, H. “The psychology of the firefighter.” HuffingtonPost.com. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wray-herbert/the-psychology-of-the-fir_b_6745506.html (accessed July 27, 2016).
- Leduc, T., Henderson, S., Masias, E., Couwels, J. and Van Hasselt, V. “Health & wellness: How firefighters can manage stress.” Firehouse.com. http://www.firehouse.com/article/12152154/health-wellness-how-firefighters-can-manage-stress (accessed July 27, 2016).
- Willing, L. “9 sources of firefighter stress.” Firerescue1.com. http://www.firerescue1.com/fire-chief/articles/2100834-9-sources-of-firefighter-stress/ (accessed July 27, 2016).
- FireRescue1 Brand Focus Staff. “How firefighters are coping with fireground stress.” Firerescue1.com. http://www.firerescue1.com/health/articles/10074018-How-firefighters-are-coping-with-fireground-stress/ (accessed July 27, 2016).