It’s okay to not be okay. Give yourself permission to feel stressed or anxious. You might be thinking, “What do you mean? I’m already stressed and anxious!” Right. The difference is that you’re probably trying really hard to control the stress and anxiety.
Imagine pushing a massive beachball under saltwater. You can hold it there for a little while but it’s exhausting and, after days or weeks or years of pressing the ball under water, it’s going to eventually explode from out of the water and slam you in the face. Because you don’t like what happens when it slams you in the face, you try to push it back under again, and the cycle starts over.
Instead of trying really hard to control worry, anxiety, and stress, try to let it be there without struggling against it or getting rid of it. Your next question might be, “How do I just let it be there?”
Exercise – This is a tried a true method of effectively coping with stress, anxiety, depression, and many other behavioral health difficulties. There are some very simple full-body exercises you can do at home, no matter your physical endurance or strength, including running in place, pushup variations, planks, squat variations, etc.
Connect virtually with friends and family – There’s a tendency in the fire service to “suck it up buttercup,” which usually means keep it to yourself and move on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that well in the long run and you and your loved ones feel the brunt end of its effects (See the Ball Under the Water metaphor).
Instead of “Suck it up Buttercup”, try “Tell a Friend Knucklehead”….. or some other rhyme, like, “Reach out Sauerkraut”….. Whatever. You get it.
Hiding the way you think and feel keeps your family and friends in the dark. It also keeps you in the dark. If it doesn’t feel right to talk with family and friends, talk to a crewmember.
Do What Matters: Firefighters have all kinds of different interests. Woodworking, lawn-care services, reading, writing, playing music, etc. COVID-19 limits what we can do, which makes this a perfect opportunity to discover new hobbies and interests.
National Resources for Firefighters
FireStrong is a website dedicated to providing easy access to behavioral health resources specific to each department. This article discusses tips for getting through COVID-19. Ask your union representative or department if they have access to some of the other features.
24/7 Firefighter & Family Crisis and Support Line 844-525 FIRE (3473). The National Volunteer Fire Council provides immediate access to behavioral health support. It’s free and confidential.