Well – well – wellness!

Take care of your mind and body. They’re the only two places you have to live.

By Chief Sam DiGiovanna

August is National Wellness Month, which gives us all a chance to put renewed emphasis on our personal well-being. If you work in public safety, you have an even greater incentive to stay well. After all, your physical performance and mental responsiveness don’t just impact success or failure — they could be the difference between life or death.

When you think of wellness, what comes to mind? Many will immediately think about their physical health and the steps they can take to make sure their bodies are in shape to handle whatever life throws at them. Others turn to mental wellness, which involves finding positive, proactive strategies to cope with the stress and self-doubt. We’ll focus on both physical and mental wellness, but there are other areas you might want to consider:

  • Emotional wellness: how your mood influences your life and those around you
  • Occupational wellness: your overall job satisfaction, productivity and work-life balance
  • Social wellness: the health of your relationships with others, both in and out of your home
  • Spiritual wellness: the impact of your relationship with a higher power

Whatever your focus, National Wellness Month serves as a great reminder to pay more attention to mind, body and spirit and take steps to improve your wellness-related habits.

What Impacts Our Wellness?

Most of us live fast-paced lives and place large demands on our minds and bodies. Often, this never-ending flurry of activity creates the notion that well-being is just a “nice-to-have” thing—something we’ll work on when we can get around to it. In our rush to get everything done, we often overlook self-care.

Also, the world we live in can be challenging to our wellness. The constant negative information from 24-hour news sources can have a deep, negative impact on our mood and overall outlook. If regularly use social media, it’s easy to follow into the “comparison trap,” thinking everybody has a better life than you, not realizing that most people share only their best days, and never their worst.

When it comes to wellness, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or confused. One source might tell you, “This is good for you,” while the next source might say it’s bad. This confusion can create stress in itself. We can get so wrapped up in trying to decipher what is right and what is wrong, we often lose sight of our goals. We ignore ourselves and then, like a race car without a pit stop, our mental and physical motors blow — leaving us with irreparable damage.

To find the right responses to the stressors in our lives — such as anxiety, depression, and other conditions — we need to shift our attention and focus on what we can control learn to avoid or reduce the impact of those we can’t. And that’s why it’s so great to have National Wellness Month, 31 days devoted to taking care of ourselves (and each other). When the changes we make start producing results, the quest for wellness can become becomes addictive.

Wellness for Your Body

Whether you’re dealing with days full of aches and pains or restless nights, there are plenty of things you can try during National Wellness Month to tune up your body:

  • Get more sleep. Sleep helps you with your day-to-day energy and mood. If you’re not waking up refreshed most mornings, there are things you can do to increase the quality of your sleep.
  • Be mindful in your eating. Reducing processed foods and increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can help you feel better both physical and mentally.
  • Learn to meditate. Taking time to focus your mind and energy can help down the volume on stress and anxiety. If meditation isn’t your thing, try doing some yoga.
  • Get more exercise. Being physically active for 30 minutes a day can keep your body healthy, help you sleep better, and improve your mood over time. You don’t even need to be a gym rat to see the benefits. Even taking regular walks can help.
  • Drink more water. Water is essential for hydrating the body for optimal functioning, improving the look and quality of skin, energizing muscles, and controlling calories. The science is clear: hydration improves your quality of life in many different ways.
  • Stretch it out. We all need to stretch to counteract the effects of the day, whether we’ve been sitting at a desk for hours, working on our feet, or simply trying to overcome all the stress we’ve taken in. It may feel silly, but if you’re holding a long meeting, build in some stretch breaks. Stretching feels good, helps improve circulation and relieves muscle soreness.

Wellness for Your Mind

Your mind is part of your body, obviously, but it has a whole different set of special needs. As a first responder, you need to pay special attention to the things that affect your mood and mental acuity. Here are a few ideas:

  • De-tech yourself. We rely on technology (and the screens we stare at every day) to be able to work anywhere at any time. But the downside is that many first responders don’t take the time to disconnect. Learn to shut down your computer for the day and establish hours when you don’t respond to emails. Do the same with your addictive cell phone. It can wait!
  • Practice gratitude. In psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently correlated with greater happiness. Learning to be more grateful helps you feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve your health, deal with adversity, and build stronger relationships. It literally makes you happier!
  • Seek professional help. When everything becomes too much, do not hesitate to reach out to a qualified therapist to help with your well-being. Many first responder agencies have programs in place that cover the costs for this. Find out what’s available and get the help you need.

The Big Picture

With August being National Wellness Month, now is the perfect time to work on your overall physical and mental well-being. You don’t necessarily have to make huge changes — even little steps can have dramatic effects over time.

If you’re reading this and it’s not August, there’s no reason to wait until the next National Wellness Month to improve your mind, body and spirit. Take a few minutes and do a self-check to determine where you might be struggling. When you see room for improvement, make small changes and carry them through for maximum benefits.

Chief Sam DiGiovanna is a 40-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department, and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale. Passionate about public safety and risk management, he also is a consultant for Lexipol www.Lexipol.com & Fortress North America Fortress