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This episode is for you. Then you are experiencing one of the following tired and wired, waking midsleep, possibly snoring and regardless, if you got two hours or 12 hours of sleep, you wake up absolutely exhausted. Like your battery didn’t charge at all while you were sleeping. And sometimes you wake up feeling hungover when you didn’t drink the night before.
So you grab a coffee but it doesn’t seem to give you the kick it used to. And you need more and more coffee on shift just to get by. Or you’re always on high alert that hypervigilant you can’t shut it off. Even when you’re at home, you’re constantly worrying or thinking that something bad is about to happen. And being on such high alert or anxious, the smallest things your kids do, making a loud sound or dropping something has you going from zero to a hundred without thinking about it. And you find that you’re yelling at them before you even realized it was happening. Or working out used to be your stress relief but now even though your brain wants to be active and feel that adrenaline rush because being happy or being healthy is who you are deep to your core, your body won’t let you. You either go to the gym and try to push but that rush is not there anymore. Or you don’t even make it off the couch to get to the gym. You’re so exhausted, injuries keep flagging your body and simple daily stressors that never used to phase you now stop you from being able to relax and recover on your days off. In today’s episode, I am going to help you understand the vital steps that most first responders are missing when trying to stay strong for 911 shifts.
If you resonated with any of the examples that I gave above then this podcast is definitely for you. I’m going to show you what really needs to happen beyond exercise and nutrition in order to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake with a fully charged battery so that you can recover on days off, enjoy your family. No matter what your shift throws at you and you are going to be able to stay calm while doing it. Before I start teaching you what is needed to be 911 strong, I want to go over a few misconceptions when it comes to what is needed in order to stay 911 shift ready.
One of the big misconceptions is that traumas are the only reason first responders struggle. Traumas and PTSD absolutely are a big topic in services nowadays and they should be. We definitely need to take them seriously and they are a big part of the job. But often it feels like it’s focused on so much that the other stressors of the job that can actually cause these symptoms that can cause you to be absolutely exhausted, yelling at your kids, snoring, not getting a good sleep, tired and wired, having gut issues, having short-term memory struggles where you’re not doing as great on your reports anymore. You’re not being able to remember the details or what your spouse said to you.
All of these symptoms can also be swept under the rug from other causes. So I want to lead you into this story. It was written it’s actually a post that was in my Facebook group. I think this was three years ago. I’ve been doing this since 2018. It was probably actually in 2018. So we’re probably going about four years. And this was written by somebody who was a police officer who worked in high tactical unit.
It is currently 6:47 PM Tuesday evening. I’ve been going as of 7:00 AM Monday morning on roughly as best an hour of sleep. After Marriott of energy drinks and at least two pots of coffee and fast food in between conducted controlled buys, surveillance, pre-read reconnaissance, two forced entries on two search warrants and a vehicle pursuit. It didn’t occur to me until my partner and I were cleaning out our vehicle of the remnants of fast food, wrappers and aluminum cans rattling on the floor that we resembled two meth addicts tweaking through a journey across country.
Well, knowing what we are putting our bodies through is detrimental to our wellbeing, we had a conversation about why we do these things without question or hesitation to not only ourselves, but to our families. Does it ever end? When do we start letting go of the never ending pursuit of holding the line that gets harder to hold everyday? When do we stop making time for the profession and start making time for ourselves without the feeling of guilt towards either side? Now, this was written by somebody who very shortly after ended up on medical leave. They were not able to get a PTSD diagnosis. And if we break it down though, let’s just take a look at this little bit.
So he was currently 6:47 PM Tuesday evening and been going as of 7:00 AM Monday so that’s 36 hours. So he had been up for 36 hours straight after only having an hour of sleep. What I know about this gentleman as well is he was lucky to have got four hours of sleep a night, four to six hours because he just couldn’t sleep even when he was home on days off, his body could not sleep. We get into the two pots of coffee. Needing that coffee in order to stay awake. All the stress that comes with doing conducted controlled buy, surveillance, pre-read reconnaissance two forced entries, two forced entries on two search warrants. What you have to do to get a search warrant already takes so much stress as well. A lot of that’s the mental stress but your body doesn’t know the difference. And then we’ve got a vehicle pursuit.
All of these stressors are operational stressors. The hours, the overtime, the administrative stressors, these all add up that if we’re thinking that traumas are the only reason first responders struggle we are missing a big piece of that puzzle.
We’ve got COVID the last couple of years, I’ve worked with guys where stations were out with COVID on quarantine and other stations had to cover for them. Short staffing. Short staffing is happening all of the time everywhere. Responders are picking up doubles. You’re doing two twelves back to back. EMS two 24s back to back. Same with fire. You guys are doing 48 hours. I was hearing of some 96 hours straight during COVID. And I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard it recently, haven’t been asking but I would not bet that there are some places where some people are still doing some 96 hours straight. And these are services that are busy though calls are 24 hours a day. Protests, fires there’s unknown events that pop up all of the time. And it starts getting into what I call the 911 lifestyle spiral. We’ll actually look at my husband I’m going to break down the trucker rally for him this year.
He is in a specialized unit and he’s in logistics. And he’s also that EMPO, the emergency management. And so during the trucker rally, he worked 37 days straight. Now for that I do know after 29 days, he’s like, holy crap look at my hours. He had gotten his check with the hours of his overtime. He had done 232 overtime hours in 29 days on top of his 160 regular hours. So think about that 160 is full-time. You’re adding 232 hours to that in 29 days that average out to being that he had done 18 hour days for 37 days straight. The operational stress on you guys is unbelievable. And there’s no way my husband said no way that he would have been able to have survived that without understanding what he needed in order to be recovered before he went in there. So he had full energy, his sleep was all restorative before going into those 37 days. Knowing what to do during that 911 shift, what to do during that operation to keep his body strong and handle it and then what to do when it was over in order to recover again. He said, there’s no way that he would have been able to do that.
So I’m going to ask you, has there ever been a time on the job where you worked overtime or an extra shift to cover for someone or put in tons of extra hours, prepping for a special operation or during a special operation and you got little to no sleep where you pushed through, and once it was done though, you weren’t able to recover on your days off? When you did get into your next block of shift, you were dragging. Different symptoms started coming up. Has there ever been a time? I know if any of your first responders, there’s no way you could be answering no to this because as you’re going through your career and as you’re going through your years in service, your body can only handle so much stress and it just becomes a cumulative and accumulative and accumulative. And the operational stress is really a factor when considering why first responders burnout. And you guys need more support for this, not the support of a civilian. You need the support of a 911 lifestyle to truly understand what your stress system needs.
Which brings us to misconception number two where exercise is often thought of as being the best to combat stress, to combat the sleep struggles, and the exhaustion and the weight gain and stress management. But how does this make sense if you’re wearing for fire a hundred pounds of equipment on every call. Officer’s 25 to 40 pounds depending on what state, what country you’re in. And EMS, it really depends on the patient that you are caring for and what you need to do and how you need to get them into the gurney. And what you guys need if you’re carrying that amount of equipment on you for a 12 hour, 24 hour shift. That is basically an endurance workout right there. And then every call that you go to is like a hiit workout.
It does not matter if that calls cleared because your body sends out the calvary. It sends out your stress hormones to prepare for whatever may happen on that call. So just doing that, you have this endurance workout hiit workout, endurance workout hiit workout. So your body is getting that all throughout your shift. How is pushing it more when you’ve had a shift like that going to be able to decrease the stress when exercise also increases your stress hormones? Is there not some sort of a top level a point where that stress becomes counterproductive? I kind of like to think of this sometimes like a cell phone.
And so your cell phone has a certain amount of energy in it. That’s kind of like your body having enough energy or your stress system on how much it can handle. And so every stressor that you handle in your day, just wearing your gear, going to a call, even if it’s cleared, look calls, dealing with admin stress, preparing for special operations, all of these extra things start wearing down your battery cells of how much stress your body can handle. So if your cell phone is at the bottom, if it is flashing on empty and you go and do a workout, which uses energy, uses your stress hormone and everything and that cell phone battery dies while you’re doing that workout. How is that productive for you? It’s not. Right?
And if we also go one step further with this, so with, I like to think of your stress system as well, like a car we’ve got, the cell phone is one, and then we’ve got this car analogy. And with the car to me healthy nutrition and exercise are like the gas. Your engine of your car is the stress system. So that’s all your stress hormones, all of the organs and system that needs to be working your stress system. So we’ve got hormones, nervous system, gut all of these parts are a part of your stress system. Those are your engine. So if you’re going to be adding this exercise and the nutrition and all the self-help stuff, those are like gas going into an engine. If your engine is strong, if your stress system is strong, then that healthy eating that nutrition and that exercise is going to benefit you. It’s going to help your engine run smoother. But when your engine is struggling, when some parts need to be replaced, they need to be oil and lube or there’s something going wrong in the electric of that car then it doesn’t matter what, what exercise and nutrition, what gas you’re putting into it. The engine is not going to run optimally. So they definitely have a place. Absolutely. But it’s understanding when and why to work out in order to make sure that your stress system is strong to handle stress events and to be getting rid of stress hormones and de-stressing you. There’s a time and a place, but it’s not all of the time and the place, it all needs to work together.
And this kind of goes back to me, which you’ll hear more about in the next episode is that my background is as a personal trainer. And when I was in full burnout, I couldn’t workout. I was angry at home. Workout and nutrition was my life. And every time I tried to workout the energy would decrease so much that I could not get through a workout. I couldn’t figure out what the missing piece of the puzzle was. I was so exhausted. Like beyond exhausted from the moment my eyes opened and no amount of exercise helped me. I tried meditation. I tried all the health self-help stuff. None of that worked. If I did make progress again and if I worked out too much or I had another stressor, my body would just crash again. I was missing a big piece of that puzzle. And you all know somebody in your service that really works out hard. They’re putting in the work. They seem like they are on top of their game mentally and physically for the longest time. And then they start getting injuries. Then health issues start creeping in and they, you know, sometimes have to get accommodations in the service because their body can’t even do the job anymore.
And this may have been somebody who was exercising and so on top of their game. Thing is, is that they may not have even told anybody when they were not able to work out anymore or they may not have even told you that this is how they’re feeling. They’re still just somebody that’s pushing through their day. This may be you and you may be keeping it a secret. I know I did. I felt like a fraud. I didn’t tell any of my clients that I couldn’t work out. I was a personal trainer. For you guys, you telling people that you can’t be getting to the gym and staying in shape anymore. You may not tell your partner that because this is a big part of your job is staying in shape in order to work out. And there are definitely guys on your platoon and your crew that are taking any depressants and any anxiety medicines. They’re trying to do all the things, exercise, nutrition and whatever else they can think of or find to try to stay on top of their game. I mean, heck some of them are even personal trainers themselves, but they’re off their game. Their body is not listening anymore.
So if working out was all that you needed to stay on top of your game as a first responder, then shouldn’t the burnout rate of first responders be lower since most first responders work out and really take pride and be active? I mean, most first responders that I speak with have an athletic sport background. They’re very, very active in their lifestyles. Until they can’t anymore because burnout took them out.
And so I’m just going to go through a few symptoms with you of what I kind of call the rundown responder. It’s where you’re tired and wired and you can’t sleep anymore. Waking without your battery recharged, exhausted, pushing through every day from the moment you wake, until you go back to bed. Needing coffee and energy drinks to get through shift and getting to the point where coffee and energy drinks only keep you stable. Can go from zero to a hundred, calm to anger in a second. Hypervigilance, anxiety, being on high alert, can’t shut it off rules your life even on your days off and at home. You’re yelling at your kids for being kids, distancing themselves, to prevent it. Wondering if you’ll have the energy and the stamina required to keep yourself safe and on the job and last your entire career.
Now, here’s the thing, what I’m going to be showing you today. What we’re going to be diving into now, helps get you from that point if you were experiencing even one of the symptoms I just mentioned or all of them, which no judgment here, cause I’ve experienced every single one. If you get from there to getting to where you can become an elite eternal responder. One who falls asleep easily, stays asleep, wakes with the recharged battery, has energy to last your entire shift and more leftover for your family. Your coffee is often an enjoyment. When you have time, it’s not a necessity that you need in order to even make it through shift. You’re calm and relaxed. In control of when you need to be hypervigilant to keep yourself safe on shift and when you can flip that switch, turn it off and relax and be calm when you’re writing your reports, when you’re home with your family. Getting a solid sleep, waking with energy, remaining calm on any shift schedule because you know which tools are required to keep you that way.
So let’s dive in to why you’re here, which is making sure that you are 911 shift ready. So I’m just going to for those of you that are watching us on YouTube, I am going to share my screen. What we’re going to be diving into is there are three big pillars that are important. We talked about how exercise can be, but we’ve also talked about how exercise can actually put you further into burnout. So in order to be 911 shift ready and prevent and avoid burnout, there are three pillars that really need to be considered.
The one is 911 shift ready, having a strong resting system, and post shift recovery. So 911 shifts are not predictable as most civilians shifts. So we need to make sure that we are ready for all of the curve balls that are thrown at you, that you were ready for anything that happens. My husband did 37 days straight and he recently we just had our playoffs for our basketball and hockey teams here and he was in that and that was crazy hours. Like it was days, nights, all over the place. You guys have to be ready for everything that is being thrown at you.
You have OT there’s so much OT. You cannot be in the middle of a call and be like, “Oh, hey can someone else hold this host for me?” Or can somebody else deal with this call? Like you need, you can’t leave. I was going to say something. I just don’t, I’m going to say it’s kind of off the cuff, but I know you guys can handle this. I have to be cautious. This is my first episode. So I need to be careful with what I can and cannot say here. But yeah, you can’t in the middle of a call, just be saying stop beating your wife. I need to go home to my own family my shift’s done. So you have to stay. You have to stay on a call from start to finish. EMS too like you need to even stay up at least where we are to stay at the hospital until your patient has been checked in. Even though you’re standing at the hospital lineup. if it’s not a crisis emergency that they needed to be welded in right away. So you need to have all kinds of backups and be ready for this.
You can’t grab food any time of day. You can’t just go to bed at the same time. You don’t have regular routines and schedules. So we need to really be able to adapt to whichever situation is unfolding each and every day and every shift for you. So we need to make sure that you know how to regulate your sleep and your waking rhythms regardless of what shift you just worked.
If it was a 24 nonstop. If you’re doing days, nights, if you just pulled some OT and you’re, you know, sleeping in the afternoon, when normally you go to bed at eight in the morning, or you have to go be up at 4:00 AM. So you need to go to bed early in the evening. You need to understand how to calm down the stress energy hormone and increase your sleep hormone so that your body knows when to sleep. And if you’re adding that natural sleep hormone, all of your other hormones for healing and repairing, and memory and cognition and metabolism, all of these things start repairing while you’re sleeping if you can get into a proper sleep. And these are things that depending on your shift, you need to understand how to be able to do that. You need to know how to manage different stressors, how to shut yourself off of stress and everything. So your body needs to be given certain signals, so that it can understand which end is up based on what happened in your shift that day.
Now the next one that we said was there a strong resting system. And as we spoke about earlier with exercise, exercise works your stress system. There’s not really a lot of talk about your resting system. Your resting system it’s really, really important that they are like muscles and the stronger that you work them the quicker they are to react. So if you’re constantly working that stress system through your shifts, through going to calls through all of the stressors that happen, admin, on call, all of that stressors that happen at home, your stress systems, constantly working. If you’re never working you’re resting system then it becomes overpowered and you keep switching into it which gets that hypervigilance. And that’s how you can get that anger going from zero to a hundred. So if you want to be able to unwind, to actually be calm at home, it’s important to start training your resting system.
And then we get to post shift recovery. Now, this is where when OT leaves you with little to no time to sleep in between shifts or you have court after nights, you have family commitments, kids are waking you up in the middle of your sleep. We need to be able to teach you how to get the most out of your sleep and what to do. We also get a lot of family guilt. One of the biggest transitions for first responders is when they have kids because as soon as you have kids, your time, isn’t your own. So when you use to sleep switches what kids are demanding of you takes a lot of energy. So really understanding how to work your family into your shifts, into your life so that you can get the recovery and you can get that good quality family time that you deserve, that your family deserves.
It’s not going to be as much as a lot of other families because it really depends on your shift and when they’re home but making sure that we can give you the most quality time with them, the most energy for them and you also to have some time for yourself is really, really important post shift recovery. So having those tools and those skills to understand how to give your body the rest it needs in order to recover so that you’re ready then for the next operation or call that goes out.
Now here’s the thing, if we combine being 911 shift ready with a strong resting system, then that means that our body knows when to sleep and awake on any shift schedule, we have an increased energy, our batteries recharging. You can control the switch to be in that stress state and when to turn it off and you’re anchoring your short fuse decreases. You gain back that ability to relax when you’re at home or in between calls, you reduce snoring, possibly sleep apnea decreases that we’re going to be diving into in episode three snoring. So keep an eye out for that one.
When you really mixed that being 911 shift ready when you’re ready for anything that happens on shift and you have that strong resting system, then you don’t need coffee as much anymore. It becomes an enjoyment. Your days off stressors, they don’t bother you as much as they used to.
And your workouts don’t get that adrenaline rush anymore. Your brain is clearing and then your reports are starting to improve where you’re able to remember details of your calls and your to do list starts taking you less time. But if you don’t have that post shift recovery there then what’s going to happen is that you’re not going to be able to recover on your days off.
So your stress system is going to start being overpowered and it’s going to stop you from having a strong resting system. Your stress system is going to stay overpowered even if you’re working your resting system. If you’re not able to get enough recovery in enough downtime then you’re still not going to be able to keep that stress system strong. And you’re going to decrease as well that ability to regulate your sleep rhythms because you need to make sure that you’re recovering better in order for your body to respond while you’re actually on shift.
So you’ll have some good sleeps better than you do now, but you’re still gonna have more bad ones. And the benefits from working on the 911 shift ready and a strong resting system will only last you so long. As soon as you get into that special operation and you push yourself too much and you didn’t go in recovered then it’s going to take you long to recover after. The short fuse will start rearing its head more and more, and you’re going to get lots of ups and downs. You’ll be okay when you don’t have a lot of stress, but when a stress comes up, you’re going to take longer to recover and it’s going to become this roller coaster.
And then if we start mixing that strong resting system with post shift recovery, then we’re able to switch on and off that stress and resting system. You start becoming more engaged with your kids and your spouse. You might be ready for like day one on shift. You might be actually recovered enough to handle day one of shift. You’re going to be calm a little bit. You can start actually controlling the anger a little bit. So when it starts rearing its head, you’re going to have some of those skills to be able to pull that back.
You’ll be less hypervigilant and anxious at home and you’ll be less irritated. That’s when you’ve been working on both strengthening your resting system and working on your post shift recovery tools. But if you miss out on this 911 shift ready while you’re working on the strong resting system and your post shift recovery then your sleep is going to stay off track, which is going to reduce your ability to recover on your days off.
They’re going to struggle to fall asleep and your battery will not charge enough while you sleep. You’re going to get back on coffee to make it through your shifts and you’re going to be less able to handle smaller stressors. And your short fuse is going to rear more. You’re going to be able to still engage with your family more like we mentioned, but you’re going to be tired while you’re doing it. You’re not going to be giving them the full you. And by the end of your block of shifts, if not earlier, as I said, you’ll be ready probably for day one of shift and then it depends on how your shifts go. What stressors are thrown your way will depend on how long that’s going to last. You most likely will not have recovered enough to last your entire shift if you’re not supporting yourself during your shift.
If we actually look at being 911 shift ready, so having the tools while you’re on shift to keep your stress system strong and your post-shift recovery, you’re going to feel like you’ve recovered on your days off. You will be more engaged with your family energy-wise. Your sleeps are improving. They’re not the best, but they are improving. And you’re waking with your battery charged more often, and you’re going to need less coffee required to get through your shift. But if you miss out on that strong resting system, And you only focus on being 911 shift ready on those tools and the tools to recover post shift, then snoring, sleep apnea are going to increase, which is going to mess up your sleep even though you’re able to probably fall asleep. It’s going to mess up your sleep quality. So you’re healing, repairing, and remembering things, your hypervigilance and anxiety won’t be able to shut off so while you’ll have more energy for your family, you’re probably still going to get short fused with them and you’re not going to able to fully relax and small stressors will start affecting you more.
Your waking energy is going to be up and down. It will be worse near the end of a block of shifts. So you’ll might start waking okay on a block of shifts, but you’ll find that as more and more stressors continue, you’re going to start waking up more exhausted if you are not working your strong resting system.
So as you can see these all work together, if you’re missing one then you’re throwing things off. And with that, this is where we go, where we start to work out and then you get hit cause you might actually workout because your reserves are okay but then other stressors hit you and you workout and you can’t handle it.
So understanding that you need to have these tools to make sure that your body can handle the stressors of your shifts, making sure that your resting system is strong so that you can switch in and out of that stress and resting state. And to make sure that you are using the proper tools to recover, to get the most recovery on shift while still also being able to get that time with your family.
So it’s really, really important to make sure that you are getting all three. So I’m going to ask you, which one’s missing for you? Are you doing everything that you need to be 911 shift ready? So are you feeling like you can last your block of shifts? Are you able to recover? How’s your post shift recovery? And how is your resting system? Are you able to shift in and out of that, like stressed state and not be like hypervigilant. Where are you? Which one is missing for you guys?
So my goal is really to teach you one at a time when I just went through with you. This is what I’ve been teaching since 2018 in my 911 Elite Performance Program to really be able to teach you how to get out of burnout and if you have these skills, you can take them back to your service because they are missing these skills.
They may have one or two of these pillars, but they’re usually missing pieces from all three. I’ll be honest with you, it’s rare that I see a service that actually is covering fully what is needed. From even one of the pillars and you need all three of these pillars. So if I can teach you, then you can go back and you can teach your colleagues.
And with your new found energy, you can then become a leader. And as you’re moving up the ladder, as you’re getting promotions, and we see guys getting promotions after they don’t have the burnout, when they can think they can study for their exams and they’re really implementing the skills to be able to really leading a team, we’re seeing a lot getting promoted. And once they make those promotions, they’re able to teach those skills to their team under them. And they know what signs to be looking for in their guys as well, when anything is off and they know where to step in before it becomes noticeable to everyone. And then they’re also able to know what’s happening from above and they’re able to start making some internal changes that help everyone.
So it’s that big compound effect and that is truly my goal with this podcast is to give you the skills and the tools and any of you that do join my 911 Elite Performance Program. It is in order to give you enough tools, enough skills to bring back to your service so that you can then impact more people than just me impacting you.
I don’t know actually many of you listen to Jocko Willink, but there’s a quote from him where “Everyone wants some magic pill, some life hack that eliminates the need to do the work, but that does not exist.” And hopefully you see that from what we just went over with having being 911 shift ready having that strong resting system and a really solid post recovery strategy.
First responders are burning out at an alarming rate. For most of you this is your calling and you couldn’t imagine doing anything else but your body is questioning if you have what it takes for the last year entire career. There isn’t a magic pill. It really is about learning how to work with the operational stressors of your job. Make sure that your stress system is ready for all that your job throws at you and knowing how to recover when it hits you hard.
It is time to stop the old way of preparing for the job and start training so that you can be 911 shift ready, have a strong resting system, and have post-shift recovery tools that work for you and modern-day stressors.