From the editor: Infinity’s verse
Of all things infinite from birth to death, stress must be one of the most discussed. As you well know, it is of particular consequence to the fire service. If Statistics Canada found in 2014 that almost 40 per cent of those surveyed experience workplace stress due mainly to inflexibility of schedule, long hours, constant connectivity, tight deadlines, and lack of vacation time, then consider the magnitude leap that first responders make with bridging the gap between life and death, encountering human remains, and receiving the palpable anguish of those in the worst times of their lives.
By Laura Aiken
Stress is an infinite subject in the firefighter’s handbook because it can’t be solved with a flexible schedule or taking a vacation. It’s a part of the job, and developing physical and mental strength is a lifelong quest, as new challenges and tragedies constantly raise the bar of what’s required of us.
Stress is complex and subjective, like the perception of pain. Also, like pain, it shares the two interconnected facets of mind and body. In author and psychotherapist Nick Halmasy’s cover story on page 10, he explains why exercise is so imperative to managing the body’s biological response to stress. All those anxiety producing chemicals were intended to be expelled, so if you are not physically running for your life, pretending to might just be the ticket to preventing an accumulation of stress by-products.
On the mental side, resiliency is armour. Studying it and improving it can be endlessly motivating. There are no shortages of inspiration. Amy Morin is one such figure. In her TEDxOcala talk “The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong,” she shares how she endured a number of tragedies including losing her mother suddenly at 23 and becoming widowed at 26. Her strategy pivots around three key mental habits: unhealthy beliefs about oneself, unhealthy beliefs about others and unhealthy beliefs about the world. She emphasizes moving past envy, self-pity, and resentment towards the positive attributes of self-agency and acceptance that life is not fair. It’s a simplified summary that would be nearly impossible to dispute as a strategy, but being reminded by the outside world of the path to greater mental strength can help assess where we are really at with these concepts.
Chiefs don’t become chiefs without developing a mental resiliency and ability to manage stress. As leaders it becomes part of your role to help empower others to build their own strategies for managing the physical and mental stress of being a firefighter. In this edition, you will also find Part 2 in a series on Oak Bay Fire Department’s holistic program for its firefighters that focuses on how the department integrates mind, body and spirit into wellness. Physical and mental health is a growing editorial focus for Fire Fighting in Canada as it continues to be at the forefront of industry concern.