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Supporting yourself


First responders know better than anyone that to solve a problem we need to know what we are dealing with. We know that stress can impact anyone – none of us are immune.

As a first responder and as a support person who may be exposed to stress and challenging situations on a regular basis, it is not uncommon to feel like your cup is overflowing.

Investing in ourselves and the people we care about helps preserve work/life balance but also serves to remind us that we are part of an important tribe (be it family, work culture, community).

This resource is a guide to better understanding stress and burnout and finding ways to support ourselves (and others) through these experiences.

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Stress occurs in response to situations or experiences of overload, tension, and worry, and/or in which we feel we can’t cope. Some stress can be a helpful motivator or survival tool in times of crisis. However, if we don’t learn to manage stress over the long-term, the effects can negatively impact our physical and mental health.

First responders and families are not immune to the negative impacts of stress – despite being highly resilient, you are still human.

Stress without relief can lead to burnout.

Burnout is emotional, mental, physical, and energetic exhaustion resulting from stress imposed by the environment (work, home, school) which has not been sufficiently managed or relieved.

As people who work or care for people on a regular basis, it is not uncommon that over time it can start to take a toll.


If any of the below ring true to you, it can help to know the warning signs so that you can then put helpful strategies in place to protect you and your loved ones.

Health & Relationships

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Work & Lifestyle

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Emotions & Values

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When under stress, it can feel as if our problems are unsolvable, or like we are trapped or helpless.

The truth is that knowing which threats are real and which are perceived allows us to take perspective and gain control.

Stress tells us that considering every scenario and asking “what if?” is contingency planning that will keep us safe.

The truth is that focussing on what we know, and the short-term of what is in our power, keeps us safely in control. Questions about the unknown perpetuate doubt, and heighten stress.

When feeling the symptoms of excessive pressure, we think that if we fix it, the stress will go away.

The truth is that knowing your role, having strong boundaries, and communicating, allows you to be more productive and to maintain meaningful connections with the people close to you.

Stress says that if we work harder, longer, or faster, it will go away.

The truth is that having realistic goals for yourself and others allows you to do what is expected of you, and maintain a balance. Work the required hours, use the benefits offered, and balance your skills with what is asked of you.


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Supporting Yourself Through Stress Fortem Recognise

Check your thinking. How we think impacts how we feel. When thoughts are intense or exaggerated, try asking
“Is this truth/fact? and “Is there evidence for this?”

Be your own teacher. What has worked before? What hasn’t?

Direct your focus to that within your control.
We can empower ourselves through the choices we make.

Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your
physical and emotional health.


Supporting Yourself Through Stress Fortem Reverse

Accept support. Whether from a friend, neighbour, relative or professional; welcome support where offered. Let a meal be prepared, allow someone to run an errand, or take someone up on an offer.

Connect. Being active – physically and socially – also helps to move us away from stress. Make use of social groups (NGOs, Fortem, community organisations or faith-based communities), as well as your own organisation.

Help others. Volunteering and supporting others are great ways to connect with and empower yourself and the people you help – fostering self-worth and improving self-esteem help to undo the damage of stress.

Minimise or avoid negative coping. Masking pain or discomfort with things like alcohol, drugs, gambling, or anger is not uncommon. Acknowledge emotions and introduce safe and helpful coping strategies to undo the compounding effects of unhelpful strategies.

Push through barriers. We often feel that motivation is required for action – but it actually works in reverse. Asking “What is one thing I can do right now that will make me feel better?” may be all it takes to feel a sense of accomplishment. Try writing a “done” list instead of a “to do” list.

Seek help. Mental health professionals are trained to know how to support people during stressful times or managing burnout. Why not use them? This can be crucial in building resilience, giving you breathing space, and gaining perspective.

Be proactive. Look for the things within your control and break down problems into realistic goals to help encourage motivation. If you can’t take time off work, see where you can find space – delegate to colleagues, and/or spend personal time doing enjoyable and meaningful activities.


Supporting Yourself Through Stress Fortem Resilence

Prioritise relationships. Connecting with empathetic, validating, and understanding people can remind us that we’re not alone in the midst of difficulties, and foster resilience.

Practice presence. Find ways of being in the here and now. Journaling, yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature can help build connections and restore hope – building resilience and allowing space for gratitude during times of challenge.

Care for your body. Stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Connecting to positive lifestyle factors can strengthen your body to adjust to stress, and reduce the toll of emotions. This includes proper nutrition and hydration, good sleep, regular exercise, and a space you want to be present in.

The information and suggestions in this guide are of a general nature only. Please consult a mental health professional for personalised strategies to support your mental health and wellbeing.

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