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Reinforcing Your Support System as a First Responder

Date:Wednesday November 11, 2020

The famous phrase, “no man is an island,” may seem abstract, but it indicates a core truth: we need other people in our lives to help us work through the challenges of life. This is particularly true for first responders, whose work directly depends on their fellow workers, and indirectly depends on partners, family members, and friends.


Here are a few ways to proactively build your support system as you work as a first responder. Making the time to try these strategies can result in a more fulfilling experience of your work.


Pursue an Outside Interest Where You Can Connect With Friends: First responder cultures can feel a little all-consuming, especially when you spend a lot of time with other community members because of your role. Try to find a separate outlet for time with friends, whether it is an interest group where you make new friends or a standing dinner invitation to old friends from high school or a different time in your life. Taking time to build up close friendships pays off in the long run as you support each other through the good times and the hard ones.


Set Aside Quality Time With Your Partner, Children, or Close Family: Working long shifts can make it tempting to focus on alone time or recharging after work, but your family members can be major assets to you if you let them in. Remembering that your children, parents, or partner have distinct needs as well, set aside time to do activities with your loved ones that bring you both joy, even if it means scheduling in advance or being really intentional about it. Those relationships can fall by the wayside too easily, and they are such a source of strength when they are healthy.


Find Ways to Support Coworkers At Work and Outside of Work: While other members of your community are key to your support system, your fellow first responders should also be counted among your strong relationships. To deepen those connections, start by noticing what your team members need: do they need you to step up a particular aspect of your job, show them the ropes for a new responsibility they have, listen to their current frustrations? When you put time into supporting coworkers, you create the opportunity for them to support you as well. If you find a particularly strong connection on the job, consider getting dinner or going on a hike with a coworker outside of work. Recognizing that you have things in common besides your job can continue the work of building trust.


Resources for Building and Maintaining Support System Relationships as a First Responder:

  • Unconvinced of the values of support systems? This Mayo Clinic article points out protective features of a support system when experiencing stress.
  • Use the self-reflection checklist from Hopkins Medicine to examine the ways you rely on your support system and actively build it.
  • Focused on a spouse or other romantic relationship? The New York Times compiled a thorough guide to how to have a better relationship, which allows you to focus on the areas you most want to improve while learning about the research that’s been done on these subjects.

Amy Morgan, MSC, CFRC-D

Founder / Academy Hour LLC & Certified First Responder Counselor

Ms. Morgan is the founder of Academy Hour (www.academyhour.com), a training provider offering mental health & leadership courses to law enforcement, first response teams and public safety personnel. She has...

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