First Responder Mental Health

Along with 6 of my colleagues and numerous other First Responders from across Canada, I was fortunate to be able to attend a 5 day train-the-trainer workshop called “Road to Mental Readiness” a few weeks ago.  My employer has recognized the mental health of our employees is just as important as their physical health.  Now I am lucky enough to be able to assist my colleagues in both capacities…as a Peer Fitness Trainer and now as a trainer for the Road to Mental Readiness program.

This week of training was outstanding and our team of 7 trainers are so excited to bring this information to our leaders and our coworkers starting in November.

The course focused on recognition of symptoms and noticing changes in our peers.  For example, Jimmy got cut off in traffic on his way to work this morning.  This is something that angers everyone…but a normal response to this would be to be upset for a few minutes and then get over it and continue with your day.  If Jimmy were to respond to this with anger and rage that lasts all day, or longer, this is unusual and potentially a symptom of a larger concern for his mental health.  For us to recognize that this is not a normal response for Jimmy to have in this situation is one of the first steps in helping him!

There are a lot of stressors in a person’s life which results in the accumulation of stressors that puts us over the edge.  Some examples…financial, family issues (divorce, children, etc), organizational & operational (personality conflicts, high call volume, lack of resources, etc).  As much as we try to leave these stressors at the door when we show up for work, or go on a call, they stick with us and affect how we interact with our patients and respond to certain situations.

It is the responsibility of all of us to Shield – Sense – Support our colleagues.  There are some simple ways that we can accomplish this:
Shield – be available to talk, provide support, provide ideas for self-care (exercise, music, reading, etc),
Sense – know a person’s baseline so that you can notice the change, confidentiality is essential, stop the gossip, encourage early access to care, check up/follow up to see how they are coping.
Support – recognize the symptoms of declining mental health, stop gossip, maintain contact with the person, know your limits and who to go to to get help for the person.

I’m so excited to be on the team that will bring this training to my colleagues!  This information can be used for anyone in any setting (not just First Responders).

One last very important thing that I learned in this course…don’t be afraid to ask.  If you know, or can sense, that someone is struggling…please, please, please open the conversation with them before it is potentially too late.  If they will open up to you even a little bit…remember that this is the first stage of getting help!

Meal Planning for Success

Have you ever tried to meal plan?  If you haven’t, you need to!  It makes your life so much easier, makes your grocery trips less frequent and likely cheaper, and is just waaaaaay less stress each night.

For a full time shift worker I suggest you plan out your meals for your entire rotation 2 days before you go back to work (make sure you plan for leftovers).  Even cook some in advance if it works for you (freeze or refrigerate the leftovers).  Make a grocery list while you’re planning the meals to ensure you have all ingredients you need.  Get all your groceries the day before you go back to work because I don’t know anyone who wants to spend any time in a grocery store after a 12h shift.

If you shop at a place like Costco it’s a little more work the day you shop just because of the volume of food, but it is so worth it later in the week/month.  You’ll need to freeze in portions (depending on the size of your family you’ll need to cut things up and freeze them in smaller or individual portions).  Wash and cut up ALL veggies you buy (this is the least fun part about me shopping at Costco!)…makes it way easier to choose these as a snack, and also way quicker to pack in your lunch.  If you’re making something that week that requires them to be cut up a certain way, do that on this day as well.  You’ll be so happy you did this when you get home from that 12h shift.

Look at your meal plan each day to see what is planned for tomorrow.  Take out the appropriate stuff from the freezer (usually meat) so it is thawed by tomorrow night.  If you’re energetic the day before prep some of the stuff ahead of time if you didn’t do it the day you bought groceries (chop up veggies, etc).

It’s a bit of work off the hop trying to think of meal ideas for 5-7 days at a time, but I promise it gets easier as you go.  And if you’re following a recipe or trying something new you’ll know that you have all the ingredients for it because you bought them earlier in the week!

And when you’re stuck thinking of something to eat the next week, look back on your meal plans from the weeks prior….you’ll find you rotate though meals a little bit (unless you only know how to make 7 meals HA HA!) and hopefully won’t get sick of eating the same thing all the time.

Happy meal planning!

More good recipes for work lunches!

Thanks to my readers for telling me they enjoyed my recipe post (and also for letting me know that you read my blog!).  I decided to post a few more recipes that we make at our house that are great for leftovers.

Meatza
This is a great one if you’re gluten free (no pizza crust) and is great for varying ingredients!
Start with some ground beef (amount will vary based on how big of a ‘meatza’ you want).  Add in an egg, some breadcrumbs (skip for gluten free obviously), and some pizza spices (I add garlic powder, parmesan cheese, oregano, and italian spices).  Mix all together and then spread out on something oven safe (cookie sheet or 9×13 pan work good).  This is your pizza “crust”, so make it fairly thin and flat.  It will shrink some, and be a bit greasy depending on the leanness of your beef.
Add pizza sauce or tomato paste.
Then go crazy with your toppings!  We usually put mushrooms, onions, peppers, and ham on ours.  Add whatever you like on your regular pizza.
Top with cheese….mozza is always delish, but feta is also very yummy.
Bake for 20 min at 350F.  Be sure to make a big batch so you have some extras for lunches.  One normal size package of ground beef usually makes enough for 2 extra lunches for us.

Chilli
I’m not going to post a chilli recipe as there are tons out there and I’m sure you have one you like.  We vary ours a little each time we make it anyways.  But this is a great, high protein, satisfying lunch that you can prepare and throw in the slow cooker.  Make as big of a batch as will fit in your slow cooker and freeze the extras.

Taco Chicken Bowls
Another Pinterest recipe that I love.  Here’s the link.
It’s a slow cooker recipe that takes about 5min to throw together.  Chicken breasts, salsa, a few spices and you’re done.
I’ll usually make some rice to go with it….makes it go a little further for lunches.  So yummy!

Taco Salad
Again, I don’t have a set recipe for this, but here goes…
Brown some ground beef while adding some taco spices (I just add chilli powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and garlic powder to taste.  Much better for you than the prepackaged store bough stuff).
Shred some iceberg lettuce in a bowl.  Add in whatever veggies you like in taco salad….I like peppers, green onion, celery, and cilantro.  Crush up some tortilla chips, add in some cheese, sour cream, salsa, and guacamole.   Stir and eat!
For your lunch the next day separate the chips so they don’t get soggy, hamburger so that you can reheat it, and wet stuff (salsa, sour cream, guac).  Basically leave only the veggies together.

Basically anything you make for supper the day before you should try to double it so that you leave yourself leftovers for work the next day, or something quick for supper that next night if you didn’t plan ahead.

Feel free to comment and share some recipes you like to have for work lunches.

So you want to be a healthier shift worker?

Of course we all want to be healthier!  Anyone who works shift work knows that we have a higher risk of almost everything (disease, earlier death, etc).  So why would anyone choose a job where shift work is the norm?!  Because we LOVE it and are passionate about it!  So, what can you do to try and minimize the risks?  I have a few ideas, some of which I’ve discussed in previous blog posts but are worth mentioning again because they are just that important!

  1. SLEEP!  Sleep is so so so important!  Not just after your day shifts and night shifts, but every single time you sleep!  You need to strive for 8 hours or as close to it as possible.  I discussed some nights shift sleep tips in this blog post.
  2. FOOD!  You need to eat real, whole foods and stay away from packaged foods that are full of sugar and other garbage!  See this blog post about sugar, and this blog post about reading food labels.
  3. WATER!  Everyone needs to drink lots and lots of water in a day.  I know you’ll need to pee lots, and that sometimes this is not a great thing on a busy shift as a Paramedic (unless you want to have to use your patient’s bathroom!).  So, just drink as much as you can!  No, Red Bull and coffee and pop don’t count!  Here’s a few tips to help you drink more water.
  4. STRETCH!  Even just for 5-10 minutes a day.  Before shift, during shift, after shift, at home, whenever!  I wrote about a few on duty stretches that are easy to do in uniform here.
  5. EXERCISE!  I don’t care what you do, just get out and move!  Run, walk, ride your bike, go to a class at a gym, sign up for a community association program (bonus…these are usually cheaper than at a gym!), anything!  Find something you enjoy doing and/or find a buddy to do it with you!  You’ll help keep each other accountable!
  6. LAUGH!  I hope you work somewhere as fun as I do and can laugh a TON with your fabulous co-workers!  Find some fun friends outside of work that you can have a blast with as well!  Go to a funny movie, anything that will make you laugh!  It truly is the best medicine!

None of these are new ideas, and I know you’ve all heard them before.  But maybe this is the one time you’ll take one of the suggestions to heart and change something in your lifestyle.

Feel free to share any tips you have to become a healthier Medic!

WATER WATER WATER!

DRINK MORE WATER!  How many times a day/week/month do you hear that?  Have you ever tried to drink as much water as “they” recommend in a day?  How did you feel (other than having to pee all the time?!)?

Dieticians of Canada recommend 3L of water for men and 2L of water for women PER DAY! That is a TON of water.  Now, they do state this can come from milk, juice, etc. but also state that water is the best choice.

How on earth can you possibly get even close to that recommended amount?  Here are a few ideas:
1. Drink a glass of water as soon as you get up in the morning.
2. Keep a water bottle with you at all times during the day and sip on it continuously (at work, in the car, at home, at the gym).
3. Have a glass of water with each meal.
4. Make it taste good (if you don’t like the taste of plain water).  Add fresh foods like lemons, strawberries, mint, cucumber, limes, etc…the possibilities are endless.  One of my favourites is mint and cucumber, it’s so refreshing!  Try to stay away from other additions to your water (Crystal Light powders, squeezable squirter things, etc)…they add unnecessary crap (like sugar).  And it goes without saying that pop doesn’t count toward your water intake!
5.  Add (or subtract) ice!  I HATE warm water.  So I bought myself a really awesome, large, water bottle that keeps ice and my water cold all day long…even in the summer.
6.  If you are really bad at remembering to drink water….there’s an app for that!  There are actually apps out there that will set an alert to remind you to drink water.

Yes, you will have to pee more!  But I guarantee you’ll feel better!   Less headaches, less craving those not so healthy foods, better digestion, less UTIs (if you’re prone to them), the list is endless.
It should also go without saying that the more active you are, or the more you are sweating, the more water you need to consume (on top of the 2-3 L that is recommended).

Happy water drinking!

 

References:

Dieticians of Canada:
http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Water/Why-is-water-so-important-for-my-body—Know-when-.aspx

 

Work lunch recipes

I know a lot of people struggle with what to pack in their lunches for work and I’m no different.  Especially when I’m trying to plan lunches for 4-5 twelve hour shifts in a row, and when you love to snack as much as I do!

Thought I’d share a few of my favourite healthier recipes that I like to bring to work to help keep me full throughout the day.  Most of them I have found on Pinterest, which is a great place to find all kinds of recipes for all kinds of food.  And, I’m big on normal ingredients…I don’t want to have to hunt for some oddball ingredients that cost a ton or will sit unused in my pantry forever if the recipe is no good!

Applesauce Carrot Muffins
These are delicious, and fairly healthy.  The sweetness comes from honey and applesauce.  The only un-fun thing about making this is having to shred ¾ cup of carrots…I hate shredding carrots!

Quinoa Breakfast Bars
These are also delicious and are great if you have a sweet tooth like me (if you add the chocolate chips…which of course I do!).  I adjust this recipe most times I make it depending what nuts I have on hand, and don’t usually put raisins in.  I do not have chia seeds (nor do I know where to buy them…maybe Bulk Barn?), so I never add those.  Quinoa may be an odd ingredient for some, but I bought a bag at Costco and it lasts forever.

Quinoa Omelette Bites
Egg “muffins” do not have to be just a breakfast food.  These are filling and full of protein with the quinoa and eggs.  I used whole eggs, not egg whites, and I added some chopped up ham.  This is another recipe that you can add whatever ingredients you like…meat or other veggies (onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc).

Peanut Butter Granola Bars
These are sooooo yummy!  Medjool dates may not be a common pantry item for you, but I make these fairly often that I use them up.  I also vary the nuts and seeds that I put in based on what I have on hand (or what’s on sale…nuts are expensive!).

Please comment and share some of your favourite “snack” recipes that you make for your lunches.
Happy eating!

 

 

 

Shift work sleep tips.

If you’re anything like me…the older you’re getting, the harder you find it to sleep between night shifts or “turn around” after your last night shift.  I miss the days when I had to set an alarm to get up for my night shifts!

Here are some of my tips for sleeping during the day (between night shifts):

  • If it’s light out when you drive home after a night shift (which it soon will be in Saskatchewan!) wear sunglasses to help block out the bright sunlight.
  • Block out all light from your bedroom.  Either use an eye mask or install blackout curtains to block the sun.
  • Use a white noise machine or fan to help block out sounds from outside if you live on a noisy street….traffic, voices, dogs barking, etc.  You could also use ear plugs, but I always found that they would fall out.
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages a few hours prior to the end of your shift.  Some people are more sensitive than others to this, you’ll figure it out by trial and error.
  • Avoid the “nightcap”.  Alcohol is a bad idea before bed.  It may seem to improve sleep initially, but tolerance can quickly develop and can interrupt sleep.
  • This should go without saying, but TURN YOUR PHONE OFF!  Your non-shift working family and friends do not know or understand your schedule so will text or call you right in the middle of your sleep without fail!
  • After my last night shift I know I have to get up by noon in order to be able to “turn around” back to a regular sleep pattern.  I also try to schedule a few appointments and/or spend some time outside to keep me busy and awake for the rest of the day.  I may go to bed early, but by the next day I’m usually good to go.
  • When not working nights and/or you are on days off, try to have a regular sleep pattern (go to bed and wake up at the same time each day) and try to get 8 hours of sleep each night.

If none of these tips work for you and you’re struggling with sleeping either before, during, or after your night shifts I would suggest speaking to your doctor.  There are numerous natural sleep aids (herbal teas, supplements, etc.) and prescription sleep aids.  But like any supplement or prescription it is important to talk to your health care provider to fully understand their use and potential interactions with other medications you may be taking.

Hopefully some of these can work for you!  Happy sleeping!