Putting members’ health before profit

Staying Mentally and Physically Healthy: 6 Tips for Emergency Services

Always on call to help others, you can be quite literally fighting fires and saving lives, often letting your own physical and mental health take a backseat.

Firefighter by truck

That’s why one of our members, Emergency Services Health, makes it its mission to understand the unique health needs of the emergency services community.

When you’re in an emergency situation, safety is everything, but what about when it’s over? Whether it’s back at the station or at home, your health is just as crucial in your downtime. And not just your physical health and safety, but mental wellness too.

To help you and your wellness, not just during your day-to-day work, but in your life as a whole, we’ve brought together five health and mental well-being tips for emergency service professionals to be able to perform at their best, stay safe and be healthy.

1. Practice mindfulness and breathing

As an emergency service responder with a fast-paced life, full of tension, short on time, and being pulled in every direction, some form of mindfulness is essential.

When the chaos of your day is preventing you from having the time to think, stop and take a deep breath. It’s recommended that after a call, you take one or two minutes to process the moment, and practice some deep, mindful breathing.

To take this further, a daily meditation practice can offer huge benefits for anyone wishing to live a better, healthier life. While simple, it can actually provide you with clarity and the energy boost you need to carry on with the rest of a busy shift. So once you’re home, set out some time to meditate so that you can zone in on yourself and yourself only.

Mindfulness builds your mental fitness, boosting self-awareness, adaptability, and, importantly, develops your ability to recognise when you need help.

2. Engage in open conversations

Understandably, the intense lifestyle of an emergency service worker can take its toll on you from time to time, leaving you with a whole range of emotions that need to be acknowledged. This is best done either through mindfulness or talking. Seeking connection is at the heart of the human experience.

In Beyond Blue’s Good practice framework for mental health and wellbeing, they found that open conversations are a particularly powerful tool in reducing the fear, stigma and silence around mental health and suicide. Sharing personal stories amongst each other can help combat that, building a sense of community and support in the process.

Friends and family also have an essential role to play. In the survey, Answering the call, findings revealed that social support was significantly linked with positive well-being. Those who had support from their friends and family had much higher levels of resilience and lower levels of suicidal thoughts.

Connecting isn’t just for the difficult times. Continued connection with those around you maintains your well-being, boosting happiness, security and belonging.

3. Stay active

From the outside, there is an expectation that, with the nature of your work, all emergency services workers are and have to be physically fit. In actuality, that depends on your role and responsibilities. Plus, there are prolonged periods of low activity. Whether you consider yourself to live a particularly active life or not, regular exercise is important.

Having a consistent and well-rounded fitness schedule can help you mentally and physically meet the demands of your role, as well as help you to cope with stress, boosting energy, confidence and mood. It also improves the quality of sleep, which is always a welcomed benefit.

When constructing your fitness plan, ensure you incorporate a sustained stream of cardiovascular, core strength, and mobility exercises. This will help to reduce the chances of injury, as well as sustain a healthy weight. If a regimented plan isn’t for you, adding walks into your lifestyle is a great place to start. There are also tons of benefits of participating in team sports.

4. Set boundaries

After a shift, it can be difficult to fully switch off and let your mind and body relax. But leaving work at the door is especially important for people in your line of work. Everyone has different ways of doing this.

It may be a simple routine e.g: from the moment you greet your partner, you allow yourself to let the stress fall away, or perhaps going on a dog walk clears your mind. Mindfulness is useful here too.

Not only that but make sure you go home on time every day. Overdoing overtime can put you at a higher risk of anxiety and depression, and it can actually hurt your productivity in the long run. You’re not doing anyone any favours, especially not yourself and your family.

5. Eat well

Depending on your location, there may be long periods of time where there are no emergency call-outs, or on the other end of the spectrum, you may be so non-stop busy that you don’t have time to take regular breaks. While it can be tempting to eat quick-and-easy snacks as you work or on the go, this can become an unhealthy diet.

So, instead of convenience food, start packing a healthy lunch to fill you up in these periods of downtime. Make sure you get enough greens and fruits, proteins and a moderate amount of healthy fat and carbohydrates – you know the drill.

6. Get a good night (or day’s) sleep

Shift work often means inconsistent sleeping patterns. That’s why it’s a good idea to focus on the quality of that sleep, whenever you get it. Getting good sleep isn’t as simple as setting a bedtime, in fact, it’s your pre-sleep habits that make all the difference.

Always aim for consistency if you can. 7-8 hours of sleep at the same time each day is ideal, but it doesn’t always work out that way. To make sure you actually get to sleep when you’re ready to, limit screen time half an hour before bed. And while caffeine can be useful on a long shift, try not to have any at least seven hours before you plan to go to sleep.

If you can’t sleep, don’t just lay there frustrated. Do something relaxing until you are ready.

For more health and wellbeing tips, we recommend you check out Royal Melbourne Hospital’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing and Beyond Blue for some fantastic resources on living a happier, healthier life.

If you’re currently struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to one of these suicide prevention helplines:

Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
Suicide Crisis Text Line – 0477 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
SuicideLine – 1300 651 251
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467