A wise person once said, “To have peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart”. For those who work in the first responder community the descriptors in the first part of that sentence may sound like a regular, if not simple, day on the job. Noise, trouble, hard work? No big deal! Try adding chaos, crises, and danger to that list!
In nearly every study conducted on high-stress jobs over the past few decades, the helping professions consistently rank at the top. Multiple studies have shown that those in the first-responder community are exposed to more primary and secondary stressors in their working environment than those in most other professions. Only military personnel and airline pilots’ working environments regularly rank at the same level of stress.
Every cadet attending a fire, police, or EMT academy learns the basic skills of stress management, the importance of maintaining physical and mental health, and the importance of incorporating a self-care routine once they begin their jobs. They are also educated on the risks and dangers associated with neglecting one or more of those categories. However, little emphasis is often placed on the important role that their family, friends, and loved ones will play in the trajectory of their career and their mental and even physical health.
An integral part of maintaining calm on the job is the stability and support of the home life and relationships of the first responder. Our bodies do not know the difference between stress that arises at home and work-related stress that comes from being on the job. All our bodies can do is react to the stress it is experiencing physiologically. No one, no matter how high-functioning, intelligent, or well-adjusted they are, can handle living under chronic stress for too long before the negative effects of cumulative stress begin to take their toll. A person who has the support of a stable home and a supportive circle of friends will experience less overall stressors than one who is, in addition to working a high-stress job, also dealing with lack of support or chaos at home. With everything that they have to handle, it is important that the men and women of the first responder community develop skills for replacing chaos with calm, not only on the job, but at home as well.
Improving and preserving the stability of one’s home life and marriage is something that both people in the partnership must commit to doing every day. Making small adjustments in the day-to-day routine of your marriage and home life can reap many long and lasting benefits. Increasing Safety, Trust, Respect, Openness, Nurturing, and Generosity at home will have a major impact on the calm and stability of a relationship. Keeping a marriage and relationship STRONG is a full-time, life-long job, but the rewards for doing so are immeasurable. Having a stable base at home will lessen overall stressors and will have a positive impact on a first-responder’s mental and physical health and sense of stability. Lessened stress at home will also allow for heightened focus at work and enable the first-responder to maintain calm in the face of chaos.
------This is Part Two in a series on the risks of Stress in the First Responder Community for September 2016: Suicide Awareness Month----
Visit www.austinstrongrbc.com or call 512-887-8036 to book a marital assessment or couples counseling session.Discounted rates for first-responders.
Kristal DeSantis, M.A., LMFT-A, is the wife of a first-responder, and founder of Austin STRONG: Relationship Building Center in Austin, TX
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