First Responders and Family – Surviving Christmas and Beyond

Firefighter adjusting his duty belt in the fire station. Looking down and thinking about missing his family on Christmas Day. | YTherapy blog on “First Responders and Family – Surviving Christmas and Beyond” for London First Responders

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”…or, Sometime Soon

One of the hardest parts about being a First Responder is not being able to ‘be there’ for family. This is especially hard during Christmas. For most people, being there means being physically present. For first responders, this could also mean being in the moment or having the right mindset to be fully present.

Regardless of being at home (or not), you aren’t always fully able to spend enough quality time with your family during the holiday season. Sometimes both physically and mentally. Christmas is supposed to be a time of togetherness. A time to eat and drink. To have fun and connect in gratitude with your nearest and dearest.

Families of First Responders Feel Unique Stress

In the build-up to Christmas day, you find stress in the planning and preparation of family gatherings. Organising presents, preparing food and co-ordinating your social calendar. All of this takes what little physical and emotional energy you have left. Often, at a time when you need to rest and recharge. This makes socialising hard. Especially when you need to expend so much energy travelling to or hosting your own parties.

Facing these challenges can also result in arguments, disagreements and traditional family feuds. For some people, Christmas can be a very difficult time.

London’s First Responders: Isolation and Stress at Christmas

Added to the potential drama at home, you often find yourself on-call again. Sometimes working harder over the Christmas period. And, sometimes, made to feel like you’re abandoning your family. Guilt and shame become a central theme. Again, you find yourself spending time away from loved ones and tending to trauma and other work-related tasks. All of this, amplified by the Christmas season.

Once again, work seems to always take priority and you’re reminded of how stressed and burned out you really are. There is little time for a well-deserved break or a time for celebrating.

Perhaps you work in a particular ‘problem’ area and are likely to see more cases where people’s mental and emotional welfare are of concern. You witness violence, neglect, abuse, self-harm, and other safeguarding issues. You recognise that this period is also hard for others and that working over Christmas may be more than you are mentally prepared for.

Somehow this hits you harder at this time of year, yet somehow this makes you feel more grateful.

Surviving and Thriving Through Christmas as a First Responder

As a police officer, firefighter, ambulance worker or another first responder, you deserve to enjoy Christmas with your family. You can feel free from work when you are off-duty! Let’s start by creating a mindful plan. When you take the time to plan ahead, you get to put in place things that help buffer, safeguard and protect you. With a mindful plan, family support, and solid peer support, you can truly enjoy the holiday season and protect yourself from burnout.

How to Create a Mindful Plan: Families of First Responders During the Holidays

You can reduce work stress around the holidays and family conflict by taking a few steps to prepare yourself and your family. Talk to loved ones ahead of time, sharing how you would like them to support you directly. When people have a heads-up and are cued to know what to do, we can prevent frustration and feelings of shame when dealing with things in the moment.

Plan Early

Be realistic in planning for the holidays. Whether that includes contributing to family duties, taking care of the organising or planning, and buying presents early instead of at the last minute. This means you are taking some responsibility and not leaving it all to your partner or missing it all together so that you feel a more substantial part of the celebrations.

Create New Family Traditions

  • This is the perfect opportunity to create and establish new traditions for your family that can take place before, during and after Christmas. For example, marking new special moments instead of missing out on the big day, such as counting down on an Advent Calendar, or leaving a traditional treat for Santa, or maybe even marking other seasonal holidays that take place around the same time of the year. This will allow you to feel more connected with your family and be present in the upcoming year.

Peer Support

  • Reach out to different friends who you know you have fun and a good connection with or other people who are there with you working over Christmas. Supporting each other through the holiday season will increase established bonds.

Plan for Social Situations

If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider how you are being supported in group situations. Think about what you can do when things become overwhelming. What coping strategies traditionally work for you in these situations? Make a plan and communicate these tactics to your closest family members so they know how best to support you.

Prevent Burnout: Bonding as a Family Beyond Christmas

It’s important to keep developing these new ways of thinking and coping. You can apply these tips to everyday life situations that stretch beyond the holiday season. Stressful situations happen year-round. Luckily, you will find that your new strategies will work in many situations moving forward.

Planning Ahead: Celebrations and Events

It’s easy to miss birthday celebrations and other important family events when you have so much on your mind. Every day is an emergency. So, it is understandable to neglect these annual celebrations. If you’re feeling fed up with being the absent family member, doing this can help you curb any ongoing feelings of guilt and shame.

Space for Socialising & Space for Self
(aka. Me Time!)

When you find opportune moments, you can be present and engaged with family and friends who matter to you, so you can feel connected to them. This, of course, needs to be balanced with the time you give to yourself – especially when so much of YOUR space, time and energy is often dedicated to helping others.

Peer Support: Formal and Informal Groups

Establishing your connection with friends enables you to keep in touch and be safe in the company of people who are not connected to your work. This includes people who you can both confide in, listen and relate to, or just do everyday activities that perhaps you would have skipped in the past. Having a sense of normality away from the intense trauma is so important.

Fun Family Holiday Traditions

You figured this out for the holiday season. Now, you have the opportunity to establish these new, fun family routines year-round! For example: on your days off, or new occasions with your family. Think of different ways to strengthen family bonds, such as movie nights, a trip out of town, or other special days to look forward to.

Prevent Burnout: Resources for First Responders

Contrary to popular belief, you are not invincible. You are human. You have real, human emotions and needs! When things are feeling hard and you are feeling low, it’s time to get help. If you or your loved ones start to notice your mental health is not where it should be, that is a sign that burnout is creeping in. This is especially important when it feels like there’s little support around.

If you are a first responder in London looking for support to cope with work stress and prevent burnout, consider reaching out to the Samaritans:

  • National helpline for people who are feeling affected by troubling thoughts and emotions.
  • If you’re a First Responder who may be dealing with other people’s issues of self-harm and suicide, they also lend an ear to talk specifically about difficult topics – anytime – 24/7/365.

You don’t need to be in a crisis of your own to reach out for help.

Begin Therapy for First Responders in London

If you experience stress, anxiety or can’t let go of work – you may be experiencing trauma. I can help you work through this trauma in a new and different way. One of my specialties is dramatherapy for first responders. You may be doubting your role. Or, wondering how you fit into the bigger picture when bad things keep happening in our world. Perhaps, you recognise the way your job is affecting your family. Maybe you just don’t think therapy can work for you. Whatever your reasons for reading this are, if you’re a first responder, I can help you.

You do not have to manage this stress all on your own.

When you are ready to take control of your life, I am ready to help you. We can meet for therapy in Angel or Farringdon, at your convenience. If you are ready to let go of your stress and feel more connected with your loved ones, I can help.

Let’s get started with a free 20 minute therapy consultation over the phone. I look forward to speaking with you very soon!


If you have any requests for a blog post, please feel free to send your questions, comments or ideas to:

Please note that this blog is meant to be educational and should not be a substitute for therapy.

If you would like to enquire about therapy, please contact me or book an appointment:

Keep reading