Exercise goes well beyond abs, running and lifting weights…..it can literally be a life and death matter. One of our coaches and a firefighter, Nina, shares how the stress of her work affects her and how exercise helps manage the stress of work and life. We appreciate her and others giving of their time and sometimes lives to protect us all….thank you Nina! Have a read as Nina explains how she manages a job that can get stressful at the sound of a siren.
“It is not stress that kills us. It is our reaction to it.” From the outside looking in, Firefighters have the life. Great work schedule, 24 hours on shift and off for 48 hours, great cooking, and a lot of laid back time sitting in recliners in the station. “Do ya’ll even do anything?” Little do they know the stress that is applied daily to the life of the typical Firefighter. Firefighting has been deemed “One of the top most stressful jobs” by USA Today, The Boston Globe, and many others.
“What kind of stress can a Firefighter be under? What to cook for dinner is that tough of a decision?” The first type of stress that Firefighters are always being under is sleep deprivation and healthy food decisions. When you have been running calls since 8am and its 11pm and you have yet to eat a single meal, other than the granola bars that the hospital provides your body is under tremendous amounts of stress. If you do have time to eat, it has to be fast food because of those tones always dropping on your portable radio. Poor food decisions take over a body quicker than any other stressor that we can control. Mix poor food decisions and the lack of sleep that you may encounter in that 24 hours that you are on shift- you can kiss a good, or even a decent workout goodbye. Who wants to workout at 3 am when you finally get back to the station? Not me.
Personally, I am not married and do not have any kids other than my two fur children at home. From what I have experienced and seen on shift, for people with families and kids- this job stresses those individuals way more than it will me. As you can imagine, being away from home for 24 hours at a time when you have a family is not easy for most. I know of co-workers missing their kid’s first steps, first dance recital, and multiple sports games because they do not get off at 5pm like most dads or moms do. That adds a whole another level of stress to the family and especially the individual. Missing out on your family growing because you spend every third day away from home takes a huge toll on an individual, especially when divorce is on the rise in this industry. (That could be an article all by itself, but I won’t do that to you.)
With sleep deprivation, food inconsistency, and stress from leaving family behind your stress levels are sky rocketed from just walking into the station. The last type of stress that a firefighter can be put under is when you have “that bad call.” Everyone will experience that one call that leaves you breathless and steals your personality for weeks after. Whether you lose a co-worker in a fire when the floor fell through, you run a bad vehicle collision where three kids were killed because of a drunk driver, or you are injured so bad in a training exercise that you are unable to work in your dream career ever again. The amount of stress that those calls can take on your body is more than any other stress you will ever come into contact with. A grown man crying because they were unable to save their patient is a real issue and will continue to haunt them for years to come.
With that information, you are probably wondering, “Wow, how do they deal with the large amounts of stress that they are put under?” The answer is quite simple, exercise. Now, don’t get me wrong- you CAN NOT exercise stress out of your life completely. However, a good sweat session at least 3-4 times a week has been proven to tremendously lower amounts of stress in individuals. Exercise can allow your brain to shut off the stressors for that short amount of time, but most of the time that is all that your body needs in order to relax and work through the situations at hand. “Train as if your life depends on it, because it does.” A truer statement has never been spoken in this line of work. If you allow those stressors to get you to a point where you sulk in them, they win every time. Never allow anyone to say, “If he would have been in better shape- he might have been able to save him.”