Experiencing stressful situations is nothing new for the fire and rescue services community, but the last year has put added strain on many of us like never before.
Coping with these feelings of stress and anxiety in our everyday lives may, at times, feel overwhelming, but there are some simple techniques you can try to not only relax your body, but your mind too.
Now we are shining a light on the importance of taking time to cope with these feelings. Our Psychological Services Lead, Jane Rosso, shares some advice for coping with stress below, and we have also included some relaxation and Tai Chi meditation videos for you to try.
Are you stressed?
First of all if you are feeling stressed, know that this is perfectly normal – especially following the last year. The pandemic has been something we have never experienced and probably never will experience again in our lifetimes, and as we slowly see restrictions ease, life has changed hugely.
It’s worth noting that some stress can be good for us; it can protect us from threats, help us escape from danger and enhance our performance by temporarily changing our physiology.
But while these physiological changes are excellent in the short term, if we feel continually stressed it can upset our health and wellbeing, creating pressure on our minds, bodies and relationships that previously weren’t there.
Stress manifests differently in all of us. Our perception of stressful events is unique to us as individuals, so our reactions can be varied. Common physical symptoms include headaches or dizziness, muscle tension, stomach problems, chest pain or increased heartbeat and sexual problems. While mental symptoms can include a difficulty concentrating, struggling to make decisions, feeling overwhelmed, worrying, or being forgetful. It can also affect our behaviour, making us snappy or irritable, unable to sleep, overeat (remember stressed is desserts spelt backwards) avoiding places or people, or drinking or smoking more.
The NHS has a fantastic mood self-assessment online, which may help you understand how you or a member of your household has been feeling recently.
What can we do about stress?
The good news is that we can take proactive steps to change how we react to things beyond our control, reducing our stress levels and regaining balance. Here are a few tips to help.
Accept the unchangeables: Social distancing and isolation have disrupted our daily lives over the last year, but we know staying home where possible has been necessary to protect the NHS and save lives. We cannot change the unpredictability of the pandemic as we begin to come out of the most recent lockdown, so accept the world is a different place to how it was. Accept what you cannot change and try to look forward.
Control the controllables: Focus your efforts into areas you can influence by looking at what you can do instead of what you can’t. You can’t control the virus or challenges at work, but you can continue to take steps to prevent the spread of infection, you can be empathetic and considerate to people and you can choose to maintain a routine for the benefit of your physical and mental health.
Nourish your relationships: We have spent months apart from loved ones so as restrictions start to ease, start spending quality time with those closest to you – within guidelines. Continue to use video apps to chat together too and be creative in the activities you can do together.
Talk to your children: Stress isn’t exclusive to adults and many children will be feeling stressed or upset. The Government has produced some guidance for parents and carers on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people during the outbreak. You can find it here.
Believe in yourself: Stress affects our self-esteem and likes to tell us we aren’t good enough. But this isn’t true, you are good enough! Focus on your strengths and skills. Ask yourself what you’re good at, we bet it’s more than you think. Consider how you could use some of the special things that make you you. Brush the dust off old parts of yourself you may have forgotten.
Strive for balance: Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to take some time out and give yourself a break by focusing on your mind, body and soul. Exercise either at home or out and about (following current Government guidelines), find yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi tutorials online, get out into your garden or grow herbs on a windowsill, play music you love, be creative, and take time to notice the good things in your life. We’ve also produced three relaxation videos which you can watch below.
Laugh: Laughter is very good for alleviating stress. Watch a funny film or comedy show, listen to a funny podcast, or even join an online laughter yoga group. Phone the person who makes you laugh more than anyone else in the world and enjoy each other’s company.
Take on a challenge: Learn a new hobby or pick up an old one. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but never found the time to? Whatever sparks your interest, take this opportunity to learn and grow. And why not consider raising funds for The Fire Fighters Charity in the process with a Fire Family Challenge?
Here’s a simple Tai Chi routine you could try out, whether you would prefer to do it standing or sitting.
These continue to be challenging times and stress is unavoidable. But The Fire Fighters Charity is here to support you so if you would like to talk to someone confidentially, call us on 0800 389 8820 or complete an enquiry online.
We’re all in this together.