The life of a first responder is characterized by demanding and unpredictable circumstances and challenges, personal and work-related. Holidays for first responders often result in an increased work schedule, heightened stress, and intense emotions. As a public safety professional, finding time to spend with your family can be challenging, especially during a holiday. A holiday can be overwhelming and filled with mixed emotions, feeling more like a burden than a break. As the loved one of a first responder, it’s essential to understand the impact a holiday may have on them to understand their feelings better.

Unveiling the Challenges: How Holidays Affect First Responders

Holidays are frequently accompanied by many uncertainties and unforeseen events, particularly for first responders on-call. The workload and hours may increase due to low staff and high demand, disturbing their regular schedule and routine. The emotional strain that first responders experience on and off the job affects their overall mental health, making it difficult to connect with loved ones over the holidays. Many first responders don’t get to experience or enjoy a large amount of family time, which may cause a lot of pressure on them when they are at home. Holidays are commonly associated with connecting with family members and loved ones, which can be overwhelming. Enjoying the holidays like everyone else can be challenging and draining for first responders with built-up emotions and unresolved trauma. Recognizing the unique challenges first responders face can help promote their health and quality of life.

Increased Workload and Staffing Issues

Due to an increased demand for emergency services, holidays are typically the busiest days for first responders. Families engaging in celebratory activities and parties can lead to accidents and injuries requiring medical assistance. This results in a surge in calls and an increased workload for public safety professionals. First responders that can take these days off to spend time with family leave their teams short-staffed. For those that remain on duty, this places additional pressure and responsibility on their shoulders, potentially resulting in longer shifts and increased fatigue. Many emergency responders experience burnout on these days due to increased accidents and emergencies.

Mental and Emotional Strain

First responders’ mental health is at risk more than the general population, especially those who don’t attend therapy or seek treatment. A day in the life of a first responder can be mentally and physically draining, and coping with that can be incredibly challenging. Returning home after a stressful and often traumatic day on the job can put an emotional strain on both the individual and their family members. Studies have indicated that 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared to 20 percent in the general population.

When first responders seek help or treatment for trauma, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), it can help promote their health and well-being as well as their loved ones. A Holiday for first responders can evoke various emotions, such as nostalgia, joy, and loneliness. When they encounter other family members experiencing strong emotions, it can increase the emotional burden on first responders personally.

Disturbed Routines

Almost everyone in the working class experiences a disturbance in their everyday routine. While most people don’t mind the time off to enjoy, others might experience discomfort with a change in their daily routine. This disturbance can often evoke feelings of guilt and anxiety from feeling displaced. When a first responder changes routine, relaxing and enjoying the time off can be challenging without feeling guilty for not working. A disturbed routine could also mean increased work hours, which can place pressure and stress on first responders for not being present for their loved ones. Holidays are meant for family time and relaxation, but sometimes that’s the opposite of what first responders experience.

 Separation from Loved Ones

Spending a holiday on the job can be very depressing, especially as a first responder. For first responders working during this time, separating from their families and loved ones can feel lonely and forfeited. Public safety professionals that miss out on family gatherings and events often feel isolated. Experiencing isolation during this time can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and even depression. As the family of a first responder, recognizing that their schedule might not be as flexible as yours is essential. Going out of your way to spend time with them can help promote the negative emotions they might be experiencing.

Emotional Intensity

A holiday for first responders is often associated with intense emotions and conversations. Spending time with family can often evoke conflict when mixing controversial opinions and different points of view. First responders may encounter family members experiencing heightened emotional states that can be triggering or stressful. Any holiday-related incidents or conversations may require them to navigate emotionally charged situations. First responders experience a collection of emotionally intense problems on the job. This could mean they are either well-equipped and prepared to handle any situation or burnt out from constantly being faced with it.

Coping with Trauma Triggers

Finding ways to cope with triggers as a first responder can be incredibly challenging, considering the nature of their work. The trauma associated with the work environment of emergency responders is inescapable, especially when triggers are linked to it. Family members are often unfamiliar with the triggers connected to their first responder’s trauma or other family members. First responders may encounter someone in their family who also struggles with trauma-related reactions, requiring sensitivity and specialized care. Caring for someone with trauma can be emotionally exhausting, especially if they are also struggling. Coping with triggers during festivities can heighten the sensitivity and complexity of being surrounded by family members.

Stepping into Their Shoes: Understanding the Holiday Experience of First Responders

Understanding how holidays impact first responders helps to recognize and support their well-being during these times. Ensuring access to resources and support systems to cope with the unique challenges first responders face on and off the job is crucial for avoiding burnout.

Putting yourself in a first responder’s shoes can be challenging as you’ll never know the full extent of what they’re feeling or experiencing. Here are a few ways to gain a better understanding of what first responders experience during a holiday:

  1. Engage in active listening.
  2. Conduct interviews to gather their perspectives.
  3. Participate in shadowing programs.
  4. Collaborate with first responder organizations.
  5. Promote open discussion to encourage them to share their experiences and challenges.

Supporting the health and well-being of first responders can help improve their emotional health and quality of life.