Maintaining Work-Life Balance
Finding a healthy work-life balance can be hard in nearly any occupation. However, work-life balance can be more difficult for firefighters due to the stress we experience beyond emergency calls. FireRescue1 lists nine stressors that make it difficult for firefighters to find a healthy balance between home and work. They include:
- Shift work and rotating shifts
- Sleep deprivation
- Inadequate training
- Technical problems with equipment or communication
- Bad crews
- Malicious coworkers
- Inconsistent policies
- Poor leadership
- Stressful emergency calls
At this point, you may be asking yourself, what exactly is work-life balance? The definition continues to evolve, but the consensus is when work and rest merge in a way that results in the person feeling fulfilled and happy. With specific reference to firefighters, it is when you can give your shift the attention it deserves while still being able to serve yourself and ensure your own needs are prioritized.
The first step in achieving work-life balance is by remembering you are more than your job. You have a life outside of your shift. You have family, friends, or even a hobby to pursue. The point being, although your job is exceptionally vital, you need to prioritize the balance between the two.
Mark W. Lamplugh Jr. of Frontline Responders Services recommends the following tips when prioritizing your work-life balance:
- The Rule of 4 was created by writer Heather Yamada-Hosley, to help her create balance in her own life. It’s a simple philosophy where you keep four concrete, tangible things in your life that make you feel happy, make you feel like yourself, that you are devoting your time and energy to, and that you are actively constructing. This strategy helps break life down so you can focus on your highest priorities.
For example, you choose work, exercise, family and a hobby you’re passionate about as your areas of focus. You don’t have to limit your rule to four things, just stick to the idea that by limiting the number of things you commit your time and energy to, you end up with more things that you enjoy and don’t overcommit yourself to work, favors, and projects for other people.
- Schedule “me time” into your schedule and stick to it for that time. We schedule car repairs, doctor appointments, hair appointments and home maintenance appointments. Your health and well-being are just as important as scheduling time for other essential matters. Don’t get into the habit of canceling your appointment for “me time.”
- Carve out some time for exercise. Physical exercise has many health benefits. Find time in your day to get your body moving. When time is short, try to get 10 to 15 minutes of exercise in on or off the job, several times a day, if more extended periods aren’t possible. If motivation is the problem, find another firefighter or workout partner and exercise together.
- Get buy-in from your family to support your efforts to find work-life balance. Use your firefighting family as a means of support for your family and yourself. Introduce your family to other firefighters and their families so that they can be a part of the process for offering and receiving support, lending a helping hand and managing life when you need to be out on calls.
- Practice mindfulness at home. This is today’s term for living in the moment and being present. Whatever you are doing at home, focus only on that for that time. If you are eating dinner with your family, enjoy the time it takes to eat and share activities of the day. When you are gardening, sink your hands into the earth and feel the richness of the soil. Find joy and purpose in your activities at home.
- Learn to say no. Firefighters often have the best intentions when it comes to spending time with their families or taking care of themselves. When an opportunity arises for overtime or an extra class that they’ve wanted to take, home life gets put on the backburner once again. Consider that there will be future opportunities for overtime and classes where you can better plan for them without impacting plans with your family.
- Track and manage your time. Wealthy people accumulate wealth by tracking and managing their money. Track your time so that you know what activities are taking up your time at home and the firehouse. This gives you the chance to evaluate if you are spending your time doing the things that are most important to you. If your work-life balance is out of kilter, tracking your time will undoubtedly help you detect changes that you can make to create a better balance.
- Schedule appointments right after work. You’ll be more likely to wrap up your work duties on time and get out of the firehouse sooner—schedule recurring activities like exercise classes, educational classes or hobby workshops. When you have to be somewhere at a particular time, you force yourself to get out and do things that you enjoy away from work.
- Relax on and off the job. The stress of firefighting is constant, so it helps to practice relaxation techniques at the firehouse and home. Practice breathing techniques using a smartphone app. Take 10 minutes for some yoga exercise. Taking a few minutes to keep yourself relaxed several times a day can work wonders for reducing anxiety and staying recharged.
- Unplug while on vacation. The firehouse will run without you. Shut your cell phone off, or don’t accept calls from the station when you are away on vacation. Avoid checking your email inbox. Make full use of vacation time to truly get away, spend time with family or friends, and recharge by seeing some new sights or having new experiences. Your family will love being your top priority during your vacation.
Once you have trained your mind and body on how to unwind, you’ll experience a lower threshold of tension and be able to use the above techniques to stay relaxed. Remember, maintaining your work-life balance is not going to be a one-time thing. It’s a continuous process that needs to be evaluated often.