By Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna
We all need to come in for an occasional pit stop before the wheels come off mentally & physically.
I love the IndyCar racing series. The Indy 500 will be on May 28th. Watching how the crew chiefs apply so much power to these machines, plus the skilled drivers who harness all that horsepower, is amazing. It takes a lot of training to become an accomplished crew chief and racer.
The rigorous training and the races themselves are both taxing and stressful to the car and the driver. They are sometimes on the track for hours on end. But that’s what makes these drivers professionals.
In fact, I think there’s a lot in common between a finely tuned IndyCar driver and being effective both in your personal and professional lives, particularly when it comes to managing stress. Hear me out.
BURNOUT AND BREAKS
While on the track, drivers make occasional pit stops for a change of tires, fuel, mechanical repairs due to stress and fatigue, or other adjustments so they can get back on the track and run effectively without burning out their motors, blowing out a tire, stressing the body or chassis too much, not to mention it gives the driver a rest. Pit stops last mere seconds; however, without these quick stops, you can expect catastrophic damage or injury to the car and driver.
There is little room for error in the maintenance of an IndyCar. And just as pit stops ensure the long-term health of the vehicle, first responders must take time throughout their busy shifts to ensure their own long-term viability.
Today’s world can be very challenging for all of us. Coming out of Covid, recession, crime, homelessness, war, inflation, gas costs, political division, road rage, traffic. We are surrounded with stressors. Like the Indy cars needing a pit stop before a motor or tire blows, we too need pit stops before something comes loose with ourselves physically and emotionally.
- Maintain healthy routines: Get exercise, eat well and prioritize sleep.
- Maintain supportive social relationships – distance physically rather than socially.
- Prioritize taking care of your family and ensuring their cohesion, health, wellness and safety.
- Avoid falling into negative patterns of behavior, such as drinking too much alcohol, overeating, skipping out on sleep or obsessively consuming news.
- Be proactive and purposeful so that your habits and routines embody your core values and ideals (e.g., family, health and wellness, faith, safety, service), rather than reactive responses to stressful circumstances (i.e., alcohol, junk food, excessive screen-time, social isolation).
- Emphasize your mindfulness practiceor create one if you haven’t yet done so.
Another valuable tool is deep breathing. When you feel stress or anxiety building or you feel overwhelmed, take some deep breaths and let those feelings pass. Breathing deeply is typically calming.
These are skills that we must cultivate over time, Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna says: “You need to get a sense of what works for you and start developing a toolkit for finding balance and equanimity under peaceful conditions, so that when the going gets tough, you have skills to fall back on to get through it. That’s the definition of resilience.”
MAKE THE TIME
Though these techniques can serve as your “personal pit stop,” you still must take time to completely disengage and rest. Like the race car and its driver do, take the time, and tear down the stress and fatigue from life. You may even need to call in a licensed therapist or psychologist to be part of your “pit crew” so you can effectively recharge yourself from burnout.
Perfect timing to get yourself in for a pit stop. May is Mental Health Awareness Month!