“I’ll start living healthier after my vacation… once I start sleeping better again… after my next block of shifts… when work slows down…after the kids are a bit older and more independant”
While this kind of pause seems logical, it could be ruining your ability to avoid burnout on the job as a First Responder.
Here’s why, and what to do about it.
How many people do you know that go on vacation and start a new healthy plan?
I’m going to guess…NONE?
And who starts their New Year’s Resolutions before Jan 01?
No one that I know of.
In fact, when I used to be on the New Years Resolution bandwagon I’d push the start date until the holidays were over. Never would I have said, oh, why don’t I start this healthy plan in November when I am setting the date, instead of waiting until New Years.
I mean, who does that?
I would give myself a grace period
And whenever life turned into a sh*t show I would give myself some grace and tell myself that when that situation was sorted – baby was born, the baby was older and more independant, house was renovated and we had our kitchen back, when work slowed down and I had more time again, when my husbands block of shifts was finished and he was home, then I would get back to my healthy habits.
I’d pause whatever I was doing to help me feel better and wait until the timing was better.
We all do this. And it always made sense to me as it is so much easier to work on healthy habits when life is good. And knowing I had grace when I messed up, or wanted a “cheat” day it was ok.
But here’s the problem: Pausing mentality only builds the skill of pausing.
Life is messy and unpredictable and hard as heck some times. Especially on your shift work schedule with all of the unknowns thrown at you each and every shift.
Yes, you get temporary relief when you hit that pause button, but if we only work on the skills to keep us out of burnout when life is good, how is that developing the skills so they are there when we truly need them?
It doesn’t make sense to keep pushing away the opportunity to get out of burnout because you are waiting for the perfect time to do it, does it?
Pausing when life gets tough definitely gives us some relief. It allows you a moment to breathe.
It can absolutely feel like adding another task to your plate is the wrong thing to do when you are so exhausted, struggle to think clear & stay calm, can barely keeping it together and wonder how you will have enough energy to get through your day.
If we continue to pause during the tough times, what is that teaching our mind and body?
Are we learning burnout prevention skills in the environment that got us there in the first place?
Are we reinforces the habit of stopping when times get tough and reverting back to the ways that don’t support our stress management system and help us get through these times to the best of our abilities.
It’s not about willpower. It’s about skills.
Jason is a First Responder who has had great success with the Keto Diet for his sleeps, amazing energy and reversing his burnout.
I have no doubt that it made him feel great initially. He took out every single sugar that was going into his body which takes a huge amount of stress off of the hormones that are involved in your stress response and decreases inflammation in your whole body which is usually firing like crazy in a First Responders body.
It’s a very strict diet where you track and plan ahead of time to make sure you only consume the proper food ratios each day without fail or you fall off.
How on earth was he able to it?
It peaked my curiosity. I had to find out how he stuck to it. So I asked “ How do you manage to get the proper foods at the right time when you are on shift with OT and not in a fasting mode and how do you stick with it 100% of the time?”
His reply, “ ohhh, I have had a hard time sticking with in all situations on the job. Between OT, and trying to help out at home between shifts and my days off and the stage the kids are at I’ve taken a bit of a break from it. But I will go back once things calm down again soon. “
Do you see how he built his burnout prevention plan with only one set of rules? Rules that need the conditions to be good to stick to?
And whenever life isn’t perfect, which is most, he hits the pause button. He waits for a better time. (All the while losing sleep, energy, stamina and recovery that he’d previously worked so hard for.)
That’s why, when our clients ask to press pause, we usually ask them:
“What will be different when you come back?”
Nine times out of 10, the honest answer is nothing. Nothing will be different.
Your job is unpredictable…life keeps happening. And it’ll happen again after vacation, or the kids get a bit older, or after a crazy block of shifts, or at any other arbitrary point you pick.
And what then?
Life Has No Pause Button
So why are we training ourselves to pause when life gets tough?
Life does not have a time out and in your line of work. So many unpredictable things can happen.
Throw in a partner and kids and even if you want to take off and go to a hotel to get a break you’d end up back in the same chaos you tried to escape from once back.
If we train ourselves only to be calmer and function when life is calm, how is that going to help in a stressed situation?
Having The Right Plan
What do you think life would be like if you had a plan that worked through every stage of life on the longest shifts and that plan helped you recover quicker after than you ever knew was possible?
The point of learning to prevent burnout is not to learn to be perfect and only learn what to do when life is calm and stress free.
Life is messy.
What do you think would happen if you added lifestyle habits that were attainable and not overwhelming that worked around your shift work and all of the unknowns that are thrown at you at work and at home to support your stress management system so that you were able to sleep after any shift, wake with energy and has the energy and stamina to have time for your family afterwards because you recovered quickly after shift?
5 Year Rule
Whenever someone into my 911 Elite Performance Program and every time we add in a lifestyle habit my first question is, “Will that habit fit in you life to the point where you can see yourself still doing it with your current lifestyle for 5 years without overwhelm?”
This does not mean Do you want to, but is it physically possible without you having to make huge changes in your schedule and life to make it happen?
And example would be setting a goal of going to the gym and working out 1 hour a day if you are not doing any activity at all right now.
Is it realistic?
Is this realistic when you are on 12 hour shifts, with OT and already commute 30 min to and from work. You would not be able to get enough sleep EVER and life would be sleep, gym work and that’s it.
If this works for you great, but if the thought overwhelms you and you start thinking of all the things you would also need to do and how exhausted you’d be from lack of sleep (more than you already are) then you simplify it more and ask the question again.
Keep simplifying until the answer is yes which for this example could be doing 20 push-ups a day or a 20 min walk or creating a small circuit you can do at home without weights.
Then that is your starting point.
Which can be different for everyone.
Down the road you may choose to increase the time or intensity of this habit as you get stronger, but that is something we revisit when you are ready to add more.
The point is to set yourself up for success now, so you are able to continue when life gets tough.
Yes, this means you will not get the quick results you get from a 21 day, 12 week or 90 day program that’s designed to be done when everything is going well in life or you are ignoring everything else that is going on in order to do the program.
It may take a little longer . . .
But it means you can continue the lifestyle habits on shift, during crisis calls, OT and when you are at stages of life where home is busy.
The habits never stop. They become a part of your life.
Some days and phases of life you dial them back a bit, but they never pause completely.
Burnout never pauses.
Putting This Into Action
I’d encourage you to look at the stresses in your life.
What is the one stress that is highest for you right now?
What is one thing you can do to help give that stress some relief?
Then ask yourself, “Will that habit fit in my life so that I can see myself continuing it with my current lifestyle for 5 years without overwhelm?”
Sustainability is key
And really sit and think about it. How much extra time out of your day will this habit take? Is it feasible to fit this habit into your life?
Keep dialing it down until it is not overwhelming and something that fits in your life right now.
And work on that.
Once it becomes a habit which could be a month or two, then start back at the beginning by looking at your top stresses and addressing one thing from it.
Building habits that fit into your life creates a solid foundation.
Quick fixes are like building a house out of a deck of cards. It is fun and works to a point, but when one thing in your life falters the whole house comes down.
Assess what is going to be right for you
This is where we look at where you are now. What are your current struggles – sleep, exhaustion, short fuse, digestion, brain fog, constant colds/flus/allergies, nagging injuries, anxiety, depression and other symptoms that lead to burnout. And then we figure out where you want to get to and create and action plan to get you there.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.
About the Author
Andi Clark is a mom, wife of a Police Officer and the founder of 911 Lifestyle.
Andi has a background in athletics including a 25+yr career as a personal trainer, nutrition and mindset coach to athletes and stressed out high end executives.
Being healthy and active was what she lived for. Until her body started waking absolutely exhausted, workouts become something to push through instead of enjoy. A short fuse crept in, motivation left and injuries seemed to be a part of life. All of this added up to the point that she had to stop all activity altogether.
Doctors, specialists and prescriptions were never able to fix the problem.
Once Andi realized she had a genetic stress condition that puts her body into an increased stress response state all the time (similar to what Police Officers and First Responders experience when they put on their uniform and have to mentally prepare for whatever may happen in their day) was she able to figure out what was happening and how to reverse it.
Through years of research and studying, Andi formulated a completely different way to thrive when your body is always functioning at higher than usual stress levels. One where it is possible to reverse and prevent an officer from getting to a point where they struggle to get through their days by taking a preventative approach instead of a reactive one. And one that reduces the negative effects of shift work on the body.
Through her husband’s career as an officer her focus has been on preventing burnout,
exhaustion and a tanked immune system that she knew can result from high levels of stress that are out of your control.
As she watched his co-workers struggle with everything from sleep, exhaustion and anger leading to divorce, PTSD and even suicide it became apparent how LIFE-SAVING the foundations she was laying down for her husband actually were, because not only was he tolerating the shiftwork lifestyle, he was thriving in it.
Andi created 911 Lifestyle once she realized the strategies her husband was using MUST become available to all Police Officers and First Responders so they can peak during crisis, recover quickly after, have energy left over for their families and become the Elite First Responders that they were born to be.