10 strategies for minimizing stress and anxiety in fire service leadership

Follow this map to resiliency to overcome challenges and find satisfaction in leading your fire department


Leading an organization can take a personal toll on each of us. Dealing with the stressors associated with leading is a skill to be honed, just like problem solving. For many of us, we don’t deal with stress, we ignore it. Here are 10 ways to cope with the stressors of fire service leadership.

1. Life won’t ever be fair

Don’t ask for fairness. Life isn’t meant to be fair. The best people don’t always get what they deserve and things don’t always go our way. You will have to develop resilience for those times when the unexpected occurs.

Dealing with the stressors associated with leading is a skill to be honed, just like problem solving. For many of us, we don’t deal with stress, we ignore it. (Photo/USAF)
Dealing with the stressors associated with leading is a skill to be honed, just like problem solving. For many of us, we don’t deal with stress, we ignore it. (Photo/USAF)

The least we can do is have a positive mindset. Sustaining a positive attitude is a critical part of the survival process.

3. Don’t expect people to be nice

There are rude people out there. Don’t expect them to change. Don’t change yourself. Remain kind because it’s worth it and it’s important.

In the book “Lighten Up,” C. W. Metcalfe talks about the power of a smile and its resulting endorphins.

Smiling is contagious. Seeing someone else show an emotion automatically activates the same areas of the brain as if we experienced the emotion for ourself. Smiling at a person who is being rude can lighten the atmosphere.

4. You have to participate

There are no passengers when one sits in a leadership position. There are no free rides. You can’t just sit and coast when you are the one driving the team. Leaders are expected to contribute to making the organization function better.

Leading is not an audience sport, not to be observed and watched from a distance.

5. Cry, but for the right reasons

You are human and you will be affected emotionally by many events in your life and career. You can say, “nothing bothers me.” That may or may not be true. We all have our trigger points. You can’t be too proud to cry. Each of us needs a support mechanism.

You shouldn’t believe that crying is a sign of weakness. We cry for many reasons, from experiencing the loss of a family member or friend, to the birth of a child. This is what it means to be human. To feel overcome with emotion when we have to say goodbye, and when we experience discovery, and when we look out at the world and are suddenly struck by how incredible it is.

6. Take care of each other

We have to look after each other. We have to make sure we all get to wherever we are going together. It’s so incredibly easy to forget to be human, and we do it all the time. We don’t intentionally intend to hurt, betray or ignore others.

That’s no way to live. You have to reach out and touch the rest of the world – the other people who do care.

7. Don’t overthink things

“Sometimes, the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” ― Dr. Seuss

Most of the time, you don’t need to stress, worry, analyze or overthink. You need to take action, step by step. You solve problems by eating the elephant in the room one bite at a time. You should not attempt to solve everything all at once. Sometimes, the questions are incredibly complicated. We should break those questions down into smaller, manageable chunks.

8. Think about consequences

Because we can, doesn’t always mean that we should. You should think about the consequences of your actions, and how you can hurt both yourself and others.

What happens when you throw a rock into the water? Ripples happen. Before you throw the stone into the water, ask yourself what the ripples will be. Who will your actions impact and how? How can you minimize negative implications?

9. You are never ready for big changes, even if you think you are

You may think you are ready for a big change, but changes don’t always impact everyone the exact way they expect. Big moments are not planned; they happen in a second that was supposed to be normal and you adapt as best you can.

10. Let the days come and go

Finish each day and be done with it. Live in the present. Yesterday is gone and can’t be changed. You can only change the present - the moment you are in right now. Some days are awful. Some days you want to make go away. Get past those days and forget.

Live in the present. When you shut your eyes and sleep, let your problems go. Your problems won’t go away overnight, but your stress and your pain could.

Be excited about life and look forward to the new challenges and satisfaction of leading an organization brings to you.

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