Limiting your stress
*Part two of a three part series on my journey with stress and burnout.
Following my first post in this series on Stress and Burnout, I received several questions and comments regarding how I learned to deal with stress. Stress in the workplace is really a well-researched and documented topic. What is not well documented as yet are the unique stresses that emergency service or public service workers are exposed to in the course of their daily work and throughout a career – Long hours, high levels of activity, sirens, violence, murders, angry patients and families, and a whole menu of other factors that slowly but surely build up over time.
For the sake of keeping this post to a manageable length, so I do not bore you, I am going to quickly touch on some very important things that helped me tremendously and extend this series to arrive where I really meant to – Finding Your Joy.
Control, and how you deal with it is incredibly important. What I have found in myself, as well as many other colleagues that have expressed similar types of feelings as me, was that the more I wanted to control things, people, behavior, etc., the more overwhelmed with stress I felt. For me, and possibly for you, the first thing I had to do was arrive at the conclusion that I control nothing but how I respond to a given situation. We cannot control others. We cannot control situations or the outcomes of patients, families, bystanders, or anyone else for that matter. Learning to respond differently to situations was really where it turned around for me and helped me deal more proactively with stress.
Some people deal with stress better than others, and some people may never feel the effects of stress and eventual burnout. However, it will likely surface at some point in your life; possibly as other health issues such as high blood pressure, stroke, or a heart attack. Below are only a few of the things I use to deal with stress. Most of these are well documented in many articles, journals, etc. that you can research on your own. What I want to discuss in this blog post is how I, as an emergency responder, learned to deal with stress in the unique career setting we work in daily. If you are not an emergency responder, these things will work for you too, so keep reading.
- Know your limits – After giving up some control, this is probably one of the most important things you must do. Emergency responders (Paramedics, Firefighters, and Officers) are people pleasers by nature, and compelled to be out there doing what we do. However, you have to realize that you are not a machine and you will eventually wear down and break. You have to know what your limits are. What that means is learning how to say “No”. That overtime looks pretty good on a check, but you can only do so much. Pass on the extra classes or next certification unless your employer requires it. I am not saying become a less engaged employee and risk your employment, but I am saying you absolutely must have a Work – Life balance. If you know your limits and can slow down once in a while, you will be on your way to controlling some stress.
- Keep a journal – This one may seem counterintuitive but hear me out. Write things out periodically, and do not just write bad stuff, write about the things that made you happy as well. Writing things down – good and bad, will help you determine what things are impacting you more than others. You will also begin to see trends. If you are only writing about bad stuff happening, then maybe it is time you got some help. Conversely, if something happens that made you feel good or was pleasing, you will have gone a long way to reminisce and reinforce that positive memory, and it really is therapeutic. Journaling may not be for everyone – I get it, but it helped me and might be worth a try.
- Limit alcohol – If you drink, stop or cut back significantly. If you did not know this, alcohol is a depressant and only will make things worse for you. I have never been much of a drinker, but when things were at their worst for me I was drinking slightly more and I can tell you it will undermine any efforts you are making. Furthermore, drinking to mask the symptoms of stress, depression, PTSD, or whatever is a very slippery slope to an even bigger problem – alcoholism and/or dependency. If drugs (prescription or illegal) are a problem for you, you really need to get some professional help.
- Put down your devices – I know, Jai, we’re in the 21st Century here – smartphones, tablets, and laptops are a way of life. I am just as addicted to my devices as the next person, however, if you are trying to beat stress you need to take a hard look at your time spent on devices and the things you are exposing yourself to. We are living in very troubled times and the media is filled with stories or murder, rape, shootings, road rage, and about everything in between. As first responders we don’t have to read the news to know those things happening, we see it every day – take a break from it. Additionally, if you are spending excessive amounts of time on devices, how much time is that taking away from your loved ones, or time you could be spending doing my next suggestion?
- Get healthy – Take time to keep your body fit. If your body is fit, your stress will be significantly less noticeable. Taking time to keep your body fit will help to counter the long-term effects of stress – hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and most of all depression and anxiety. Getting healthy can be just changing your eating habits if regular exercise is not your thing. Being unfit and unhappy with your body will only make you feel more stressed and make it nearly impossible to find the joy in your life.
These are just a few of the most important things that helped me and may help you. Of course there are several others of equal importance: get plenty of sleep, work on relationships, get finances in order (this is huge but a very long topic), or take a vacation. Doing some of these things or a variety of things that may work for you will help you Find Your Joy – the topic of next month’s post.
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