Coping with Holiday Stress HBO Special on First Responders Upcoming Trainings
A Quarterly Newsletter for First Responders December 2019
COPING WITH THE HOLIDAYS By Anne Daws-Lazar
Now that Halloween is over, it’s December holiday time (don’t get me started on just ignoring November)! The retail world has been ‘celebrating’ since the kids went back to school. Fun, right?
And then there is the reality of increased demands on us in the last few months of the year. Here are a few thoughts on how to cope and come out on the other side of this season with all the best parts of ourselves intact!
First and maybe foremost, ask yourself – will it matter in 30 days? Six months? A year?
When we feel overwhelmed by what we see as ‘demands’ and ‘have to’s,’ we can lose sight of the fact that we may care more about this (or the appearance of it) than anyone else does. In a month, about what will you still be thinking? Will your kids say ‘remember when mom/dad did/didn't do ____ (fill in blank)?’ Pick and choose!
‘No’ is sometimes a full sentence! How many holiday ‘events’ make up the perfect holiday season? For some, the answer is 1 (or 0). For others, more extroverted people the answer may be many more than 0.
Here is a million-dollar thought: You don’t have to take part in every single thing you are invited to/every opportunity that is out there.
It is difficult enough to deal with lots of extra ‘to do’s’ when it’s warm out and stays light until 9. But, in this season of ‘once I’m home I’m not going out again unless it’s an emergency’ and darkness at 5 pm – it can be REALLY hard to cope with ‘external’ activities in the evening.
And staying in might give you more time to do something you want to do!
Or, conversely, maybe the issue is giving up something you don’t care about so much at home to go out and be social! But be true to yourself! And you don’t have to give an excuse (or if you feel you do: ‘I am busy that night’ (not coming to your event)).
Realize that holiday times aren't always happy times.
Whether a loss occurred near the holidays or not, it can still make you experience holidays as a time of loss while it seems like everyone around you is celebrating.
Give yourself space to feel that. Take time to do the things the healthy things that make you feel better: Take a walk or a drive, read a book, listen to music, write.
Money, activities. Too many people, too much alone time. This is a season of excess. It’s no fun to be paying for the holidays (as in monetarily) in April! With the season so full, maybe it’s better to get together in January?
Sometimes the best thing you can do is put yourself first! Just for a minute!
Some Jobs Don't Get the Holiday Off: Self Care for the First Responder
During the Holiday Season By Patricia Dixon, LMSW
The holiday season is fast approaching. Some say it starts with Halloween on October 31 and doesn't slow down until mid-January. Regardless, the holidays are a time of excitement, surprise, family, expense, and stress. For many, the ability to strike a balance between holiday preparation and day to day life is difficult. When you’re a first responder, this balance is complicated on an average day, and holidays increase the complexity — as always, taking care of yourself must come first!
According to the latest SAMSHA Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin from 2018, 30% of first responders versus the 20% of the general public struggle with overwhelming stress, depression, anxiety, and family conflict during the holiday season. First responders additionally routinely respond to the crisis of others and push their personal concerns to the side. Although holiday seasons are hoped to be times of happiness and family connection, most are often filled with drama, crisis, and worry.
First Responders, (dispatch, ems, fire, police, and crisis mental health workers), are routinely exposed to painful, chaotic and provocative situations that they are forced to compartmentalize to face and cope with later (SAMSHA, 2018).
Ironically the holiday season offers hope and reaction escalation that impacts the ability to be resilient both on the job and in personal life. The risk of becoming overwhelmed and choosing a poor or ineffective coping method during the holiday season escalates when a first responder lacks a holiday coping plan.
According to research, the holiday season is often referred to as the best part of the year and the worst part of the year (Davis, 2018). Many responders will say that there are four reasons that the holidays are the best part of the job. The first item identified in Paul Davis described in his book, we are mighty, is food. According to Davis, not only are people nicer to first responders during the holidays, but they also bring food, lots of food. Davis’ research also found that the combination of good food and people reaching out to first responders supports a sense of appreciation and positive self-esteem. Finally, the camaraderie of peers and a schedule that often includes a week off lends to a positive atmosphere in the workplace.
Even with all the positives that come with the holidays, it is a period of stress. Allison Knowl points out in her research that the holiday season includes an increase in calls that include traumatic events and compound the risk for a first responder to symptoms of post-traumatic stress (2019).
The predisposition to stress from the job and the impact of holiday stress make even more important for every first responder to plan how to cope with the impact of the season.
Balance is an essential element for coping with holiday stress. Both family and job responsibilities become demanding during this period and learning to set limits and plan events is essential. Take time as the season approaches to identify important family events that need to occur and try to schedule them so that they occur compatible with the job schedule. Be aware that children often don’t understand why a parent must work. Keep your promises. If you tell your children, you will be there, making every effort to have it happen. Reach out to co-workers and share how you plan to spend quality time with family and your work family. Shift work is one of the most difficult aspects of the first responders’ job and takes a huge toll on health and family relationships, especially around the holidays (Violanti et al., 2019).
Stress. One way some First Responders cope in California is to start a positive piggy bank. Each member of the House or Station contributes change to collect money for the group to host a holiday event for their children and families. First Responders are known for their generosity and often forget to take care of themselves and their own families. This often unintentionally adds to emotional stress.
Find joy in the small things and do something special for you.
Davis, P., 2018. 4 Reasons the holidays are the best time to be a first responder, We Are Mighty.
Gould, W., 2017. How to Keep Holiday Induced Stress Under Control, NBCnews.com. Halifax, ENC., 2013. First Responders Deserve a Holiday, Sun Journal, New Bern, North Carolina. Knox, A., 2019. PTSD Awareness helps 1st Responders during the holidays, EMD Digest, American Military Press Washington DC. Pauda, E. 2018. Christmas at the station: First Responders Make the Most of the Working Holiday, Lubbock Avalanche Journal. SAMHSA, 2018. Disaster Technical Assistance Center Supplemental Research Bulletin. Violanti, J., et al.; 2019. Police stressors and health: a state-of-the-art review, Policing 40(4), pages 642-656.
Final Thoughts... Tips to Manage Holiday Stress
Exercise by just taking a walk.
Pick your battles and say No.
Set a Budget and buy in moderation.
Slow down; you don’t have to do everything.
Keep things simple.
Get adequate sleep.
Unplug from social media.
Have an old fashion game night.
HBO has a great series on about first responders. Check it out!
SAVE THE DATE FOR THE 32nd Annual MCRA Training Conference
September 20, 21, & 22, 2020 Kettunen Center Tustin, Michigan
This Conference is for anyone working in the fields of Law Enforcement, Fire Services, EMS, 911 Dispatchers, Mental Health, Clergy, Educators, Medical Care, EAP, Emergency Managers, Crisis Intervention, Traumatic Stress, and Disaster Mental Health.
Do you have a training that you would like MCRA to post? Email your training information/details to email@example.com.