Paramedic team

Navigating the Dangerous Winter Months

Published on December 21, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Winter weather almost always brings about dangerous conditions. Most of us may have the choice to avoid hazardous highways and stay inside during bad weather. The same is not always true for first responders who are often attending to emergencies on the most treacherous roads or fighting fires caused by home heating elements as the temperatures drop. As the days continue to grow colder and darker, our public safety professionals are still out there on the frontlines, determined to not let nature stand in their way.

Knowing just how tough but critical their jobs are, winter brings unique risks and challenges that can add what feels like a pillar of pressure. When conditions are bad, they are inherently putting themselves in unsafe situations to help others. As physically taxing as this can be, the winter months also bring a unique set of mental hurdles. As a first responder, you should approach protecting your mental health using just as much precaution as you would ensure your physical safety.   

Challenges and Deceptive Risks 

Keeping yourself as safe as possible is essential when putting your life on the line to save others. If you cannot properly keep yourself safe, you will not be in a position to help those who are in desperate need of your services. While this may be obvious for immediate physical threats, the unique strain winter puts on your mental health can also be a potential risk to your well-being. Being so narrowly focused on keeping others safe makes it easy yet dangerous to leave your health on the back burner. However, winter should be a time when you are especially using precaution to guard your mental health since there can be many deceptive threats that sneak up during the colder weather. Some include: 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – Typically, the winter months see an increase in mental health issues due to decreased daylight, colder temperatures, and holiday-related stress. While this can take a toll on your mood, leaving you feeling more lethargic and gloomy, it might not mean you have SAD. However, these winter blues shouldn’t inhibit your ability to enjoy life. You may be experiencing SAD if your mood starts to invade all aspects of your life, including your work and relationships. When these symptoms become severe enough and interfere with daily functioning, it may be a sign of SAD. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “SAD is not considered a separate disorder but is a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern.” Therefore, some of the signs and symptoms include those associated with major depression:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Experiencing shifts in appetite or weight
  • Feeling agitated or sluggish
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Oversleeping 
  • Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal

Holiday Stress –  The holidays can look a lot different for first responders who may not be able to take time off to spend with loved ones, adding to the everyday stress associated with the holidays. This year also brings another set of challenges as the world is experiencing COVID-19. With the added health concerns surrounding this, holiday plans may be looking different for some. This high level of stress may make some more susceptible to depression and anxiety. Some of this anxiety and depression may be resulting from unmet holiday expectations, failing to achieve unrealistic New Year’s resolutions, guilt about overindulgence, and a sense of loneliness after the holidays. While for some this may be temporary mental distress, in severe cases, these feelings can turn into chronic depression, especially for those with a history of the disorder. 

Beating the Winter Blues – While understanding the particular mental health risks winter brings, individuals must focus on using positive coping mechanisms to mitigate any psychological distress. This ultimately promotes safety for themselves, their loved ones, and their community. Practicing positive self-care by setting up a healthy daily routine is an excellent place to start. This can include surrounding yourself with positive energy by spending time with loved ones and exploring healthy activities that make you feel happy. Meditation, regular exercise, enjoying nature, eating healthy, and making sleep a priority can also help safeguard your mental health. These forms of self-care can help you navigate the winter months and beat the winter blues. It is important to understand that you are not alone. If you are experiencing persistent negative feelings that disrupt your daily life, make sure to reach out to family and friends, or seek professional help.  

The winter months can make maneuvering and responding to emergencies incredibly tricky and dangerous. However, first responders do not let this stand in their way. Using precaution to mitigate their risks in treacherous situations keeps them safe so they can help keep others safe. While the colder months present unique physical challenges, the mental hurdles can often be just as threatening. This increase in stress may leave some susceptible to anxiety and depression that can be difficult to navigate. This is why using precautions to safeguard your mental health is just as important. While there are many healthy ways to do this, some may turn to unhealthy habits to ease their symptoms and achieve momentary relief, such as using substances. It is important to remember that although these times may be challenging, you are not alone. At First Responders Wellness, we provide quality and confidential mental health and substance abuse treatment exclusively to the first responder community. Reach out to us at (888) 743-0490.