By Captain Brad Bouchillon
Guest Contributor, Statesboro (GA) Fire Department
Note: This article was originally published on In Public Safety.
The holiday season is supposed to be celebratory and relaxing, filled with joyous times with family and friends. But for many of us, it’s exactly the opposite: the holidays elicit stress, depression, and anxiety.
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We often overlook the fact that so many people are hurting this time of year. Some people are experiencing the holiday season after the loss of a family member or friend. Others recognize their lack of closeness to family members at a time when families are supposed to get together for meals and celebration.
Even for those who don’t experience loss or longing, there is an increased amount of stress that accompanies the holiday season. People stress out trying to clean their homes for incoming guests, purchase the perfect gifts for family and friends, and battle the gauntlet of the grocery stores to buy ingredients for home-cooked meals.
In addition, there are external factors that contribute to stress levels. Seasonal factors like reduced sunlight can often trigger the holiday blues. People also tend to eat more food, drink more alcohol, and exercise less during the holidays.
It is unfortunate that the commercialization and expectations of the holidays has turned it from a time for joyful decompression and reflection of the year to a hustling, non-stop freight train of emotions and expectations that screams through to January.
Holidays Bring Additional Stress to Public Safety Professionals
If the general public feels stressed during the holidays, imagine how those people who hold some of the most stressful jobs feel? The stress on public safety professionals can skyrocket during the holiday season.
For one thing, the holidays can increase one’s workload. For example, burglary rates rise for law enforcement officers; EMTs must respond to more suicides; and there are more house fires from space heaters, Christmas trees, and fireplaces resulting in increased responses by firefighters. It can be extremely difficult for public safety professionals to respond to such events, knowing that the people they help will never again experience the holidays the same way.
Public safety professionals also have to continually deal with work schedule conflicts and challenges. As a result, many aren’t able to get the time off they would like to celebrate with family and friends.
An increased workload and schedule conflicts combined with the “normal” stress of the holidays leads to increased mental strain on public safety professionals. It’s important that this increased stress be recognized and managed as best as possible.
Managing Increased Stress During the Holidays
As members of public safety or family members of those who are in public safety, it is your duty to ensure that the holiday season cheer does not disappear. There are many different steps public safety professionals can take to manage increased stress levels during the holiday season.
- Recognize emotions and talk to someone about it. The first step is to acknowledge new or elevated emotions. Don’t try to shake off your emotions or bottle them up; it’s important to recognize the feelings that arise this time of year. Make the effort to talk to someone about what you’re feeling. Whether you talk to your spouse, a close friend, or a counselor, it’s critical that you discuss your feelings instead of ignoring them or forcing a façade of happiness.
- Be realistic about your plans and do your best to plan ahead. So often we have plans for a Hallmark-quality family gathering and holiday season, only for it to fall short of the grand concept in our head because the grocery store was out of crescent rolls or a water pipe froze and burst. If you plan ahead and have reasonable expectations, you will reduce your stress and likely enjoy the season even more. One recommendation is to get things done as early as possible. For example, start your Christmas shopping early so you can have gifts purchased and wrapped well ahead of the holiday. Plan your meals out in advance and buy ingredients early so you can prep, or better yet, make dishes in advance. The more you can get done now, the less stress you’ll feel and the more likely you’ll be able to deal with the minor inconveniences or setbacks you encounter.
- Learn how to say “no.” This can be one of the hardest recommendations for public safety professionals because they’re inherently eager to help others, but it is so important during the busiest time of year. Agreeing to everything can often end up hurting public safety professionals by creating additional stress and taking up already limited free time.It’s okay to say no to requests. Guard your free time so that you can get the most benefit with family and friends during the holiday season.
- Do not abandon healthy habits during the holidays. We are quick to overindulge in holiday dishes and alcohol, exercise less, stay up late, and sit around watching television with minimal activity. It’s important to continue taking care of ourselves even during this winding down time of year. A lack of physical care can lead to a lack of mental health care. If you eat poorly and sleep poorly, stress levels increase and can cause a negative holiday experience. I recommend meditating daily, using portion control during meals, and taking a brisk neighborhood walk to help maintain a healthy lifestyle and improved holiday experience.
During this holiday season, start a new trend among your shift and family members. Make the holidays less about stress and obligations, and more about celebrating another successful and healthy year.
Enjoy your time together and revel in the holiday cheer, not holiday gloom. Take these steps to take back the holidays from the commercialization and stress that our society has created, and make it all about family, friends, and the creation of positive memories.
About the Author
Brad Bouchillon has been working for the City of Statesboro Fire Department for 11 years full-time and is currently a Captain. He has also worked as a lifeguard for Tybee Island Ocean Rescue and as a part-time EMT for Screven County EMS. Brad holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a specialization in crisis counseling.