Focused on Prioritizing Overall Health: Paramedics’ Response to Managing Stress
The top response to the question “What non-work-related activities have you done in the past 3 years to manage your stress?” in the “What paramedics want in 2023” survey was “Focused on improving overall health.” Out of the respondents who were asked to select all that apply, 19% chose overall health as their preferred option, surpassing options such as seeking counseling services, accessing clergy/chaplain/faith-based groups, seeking new hobbies/activities, and increasing time with friends or family.
This finding is encouraging because it suggests that paramedics are prioritizing their overall health, which primarily involves focusing on sleep, nutrition, and exercise. It is important for everyone to strive towards better sleep quality and quantity, improve their dietary choices, and make exercise a regular part of their lives. These are reasonable goals for improving overall health.
In order to achieve these goals, it is essential to address unhealthy habits, adopt new healthy habits, maintain those habits to meet the desired goal, and continue practicing these habits to either sustain or reach new goals. However, many discussions on health and wellness tend to overlook the significance of habits in achieving these goals. Simply stating directives like “eat better” or “walk more” is not enough; habits are formed through regular, recurring actions that are often performed without conscious effort. They become ingrained in our daily routines and shape our identity. It is the collection of habits that differentiate between someone who simply goes running occasionally and someone who considers themselves a runner.
When working towards improving overall health, it is important to start small and gradually build up habits over time. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, but you are currently not a runner, begin by establishing a walking habit for 10 minutes before and after work. As this becomes a regular part of your routine, gradually extend the duration and incorporate slow jogging to increase your distance.
Instead of solely focusing on the end goal, it is crucial to concentrate on developing the habit itself. For instance, if snacking between meals is a challenge in achieving weight loss goals, it is important to replace the unhealthy snacking habit with a healthier alternative, such as snacking on carrot and celery sticks. By creating and maintaining a new snacking habit, you can progress towards your goal.
Understanding the cause-and-effect relationship of unhealthy habits is also important. Tracking habits, such as sleep patterns, can provide valuable insights into how certain behaviors impact other areas of your life. For instance, if you notice that even moderate alcohol consumption affects your sleep quality, which in turn affects your training performance, you may be motivated to reduce your alcohol intake to align with your desired identity as a runner.
Tracking progress is essential in habit formation. Whether through a physical calendar, smartphone app, or spreadsheet, monitoring the practice of a habit allows you to visualize your progress. Once a small habit becomes routine, you can stop tracking it and move on to the next habit that stems from it. For example, if you have developed a habit of reading one research article a week, the next step might be to participate in an in-person or virtual journal club.
For some individuals, sharing progress or engaging in friendly competitions can provide additional motivation. Whether through YouTube videos, written documentation, or simply discussing your journey with family, friends, or colleagues, going public with your habits can encourage accountability and foster support. Alternatively, joining a habit group can provide an environment in which you can connect with others who are working towards similar goals. It can be in the form of a running group, cooking class, support group, or book club. A supportive habit group can assist each other in maintaining their habits.
It is important to plan ahead for unforeseen obstacles and setbacks. Life can be unpredictable, especially for EMS providers. Developing a strategy for getting back on track after a slip-up can help ensure the continuation of habits. For example, if you miss your daily after-work walk, forgive yourself for the lapse and commit to starting a new streak immediately.
Lastly, it is crucial to envision your desired identity. Achieving a goal may not bring lasting fulfillment if it is not accompanied by a shift in mindset and identity. By embracing the identity of a runner, for example, the running-related habits become more meaningful and enjoyable. What is your desired identity? Reflect on this question to find motivation for your habits.
In conclusion, prioritizing overall health is crucial for paramedics and everyone alike. By focusing on improving sleep, nutrition, and exercise habits, individuals can work towards achieving their goals and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Whether it is starting small, replacing unhealthy habits, understanding cause and effect, tracking progress, involving others, joining a habit group, planning for setbacks, or envisioning one’s desired identity, forming lasting, healthy habits is the key to success.