Hey Chief, what keeps you up at night?
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
"You can't calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass." — Timber Hawkeye, author of "Buddhist Boot Camp"
Do you find yourself checking your cellphone often? When your city manager says, "I need to see you," do you feel like you're going to the principal's office?
When you're at dinner or a concert, are you truly present or are you thinking about work? Have you snapped at your significant other or kids for insignificant reasons? Finding your patience is running thin?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you've got stress! Stress is a normal emotional response to the demands of life. Being a fire chief is a demanding job, which in turn increases stress considerably.
April is Stress Awareness Month, so there's never been a better time to contain and extinguish the stress in your life.
When you're battling stress, you may look at your fellow fire chiefs and think, "Why do they always look so calm? Am I the only one having trouble dealing with this?" The truth is everyone experiences it. Some mask it, some have learned to use better coping techniques, and some are just "wired" to experience less stress. Nonetheless, stress is dangerous.
In fact, 75 to 90 percent of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints, and 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. Learning to manage stress can help you live a healthier and longer life.
Here are some tips to consider:
Get your "pump" in gear and exercise. I know, you're a chief and therefore you're too busy ... Baloney! Make time. Go for walks. Do yoga. Join a gym or work out with personnel. They and you will enjoy the camaraderie.
Straight stream it. When you're feeling stressed, you may be tempted to indulge in high-fat foods or gorge on sugar. But these provide only momentary relief. In addition to the guilt that follows, eating highly processed, unhealthy foods will make your stress worse over the long term. Try to establish healthy eating habits and don't allow your busy schedule to be an excuse not to take the time to eat properly.
Positive pressure with a positive outlook. It can be difficult to think positively when the heat is on. But being positive is just like any other skill — you need to train to do it. Rather than striving for some general sense of positivity, try each day to identify a few things that went well. If you can establish this habit, you'll be on your way to being more positive overall. And when things are going bad, you'll have these small but meaningful points of light to focus on and get you through.
Stage away. As emergency responders, we're always "on." It's difficult to leave work at the station. But if you can learn to separate work from your home life as much as possible, you'll reduce your stress and the stress you cause your family when you allow department concerns to follow you home. Seek to be as productive as possible at work each day, then leave, enjoy your family and your home life, and come back refreshed the next day to start again.
Mutual aid. Every fire chief needs a support network. Friends, colleagues, constituents and family members aren't just for the good times. If you feel compelled to withdraw when stressed, push yourself to reach out. It may seem like it's adding more stress at first, but you'll likely experience relief when someone makes you laugh or simply listens empathetically.
Finally, as a chief I've noticed I'm most stressed by the things I know I've left undone. We're firefighters; our jobs involve a certain degree of risk that, no matter how safe and smart we are, we'll never be able to mitigate.
But what really keeps me up at night is when I know we could be doing something better but we're not. Whether it's too much time since our last mayday training, or failing to inspect our brush fire equipment before wildland season, or letting our policies gather dust on a shelf while our personnel continue to operate inconsistently and without effective policy guidance — these are all things we can control.
Sure, there are only so many hours in a day, but separating the factors you can control from those you can't — and then formulating a plan to tackle the ones you can control — provides a great deal of peace of mind.
Remember, "To whom much is given, much is expected." As fire chiefs, we are given a lot. Most firefighters will never achieve this position. It is an honor. But with that honor comes great expectations. This is what we need to manage.
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