It’s hot. VERY hot. This is your third time guarding the diving well today. Your voice starts to feel hoarse as you tell a kid not to belly flop off the one-meter board for the umpteenth time today. You’re alert but aggravated to the nth degree! Worse yet, the opening guard just polished off the last slice of pizza.
Let’s face it: lifeguarding can be stressful. The need to respond at a second’s notice is constant. If you’ve ever needed to make a rescue, the experience stays with you. Knowing what can happen when others don’t know (or don’t care) can be anxiety-inducing.
Here’s the thing: that’s kind of supposed to happen. It’s natural for the kid belly-flopping off the diving board to give you stress. But when that stress or anxiety impairs your ability to perform your job, it becomes a problem. It’s how you respond to it — not react — that matters.
The best way to deal with the occupational stress of being a lifeguard is to prevent it first, reduce it second. You might find success coping with your stress during your next shift, or even before you head out the door.
Handling Lifeguarding Stress at Work
This is a little trick that makes a big difference. Best of all, you can do it almost anywhere at almost any time — including at home (Obviously, don’t do this while on the stand!)
Meditation is a simple practice that can help clear your mind, calm your thoughts, and heighten awareness. Mindfulness, a specific meditation practice, can be a big help if you feel the need to get out of your head and live in the present.
Give it a try the next time you’re on your break (you can also try it at home in a quiet place if you’re not used to it). All you need is a place to sit still. Focus on your breathing, taking deep breaths through your belly about every 4 seconds. Five minutes can help lower your stress levels and bring you back to the present.
If you’d like a more robust meditation practice, you can download the Three Sages app for some great guided meditations and a more controlled experience.
Hold your team accountable
We’ve all been there; either during a group project for class, or you’ve already experienced it on the job. Sometimes there’s one person who blows off the extra shift or waits for someone else to skim the pool or test the chemistry. Don’t be that guy.
On the flipside, no coworker should be a source of your stress. It’s one thing for you to be a team player. It’s another thing entirely to pick up someone else’s slack all the time. If you feel like a coworker is taking advantage of you, talk to this individual directly. Let them know how their actions are affecting you and the rest of the team.
Talk to your supervisor
If you’re still having concerns with a coworker, or you’re having a tough time adjusting to your schedule or duties, then it may be a good idea to get management involved. Treat the conversation more as a discussion and less like a list of demands. That way, you can both work together to find an effective way to handle the problem. You’ll probably be helping them out, too!
Everyone makes mistakes. But when our job requires us to protect others, we often forget to protect ourselves. Sending yourself on a guilt trip for a slip-up only makes things worse. If you messed something up during a shift, then acknowledge the mistake, correct it, and move on.
Handling Lifeguarding Stress at Home
Leave work at work and home at home. Sounds easier said than done, right? But blurring the lines between your job and your family negatively affects both.
Learn to compartmentalize your work-life balance. If you have some issues going on at home, the best time to deal with them isn’t when you’re on the clock. Another way of saying this is don’t allow your job to define your life, and vice-versa. Find a hobby. Get plenty of rest. Hang out with your friends or family when you’re not on duty. Do whatever you can to take your mind off work when you’re not there.
Lifeguards need to be physically fit, so this solution is a big help on all fronts. Routine exercise — walking, jogging, weightlifting, biking (or swimming!) — is proven to lower blood pressure and stress levels. Walking just 30 minutes a day can improve your VO2 max and mood. We’ve got tons of ways you can keep yourself fit, either at the pool or at home!
Know you’re not alone
It feels good to complain, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. Sharing memes about coworkers, patrons, and #LifeguardProblems might feel fun, but that can act as a numbing agent and keep you stuck in the past.
It’s important to have a healthy support system behind you, both during and after work. Enlist your coworkers in keeping one another sane optimistic. Find ways to hang out after work. Lifeguard team members often remain lifelong friends and will be there for you long after their shift is over.
And, finally, let your family, friends, or coworkers know if you’re having trouble! A good teammate is bound to be by your side, whether on the hottest days or the darkest nights. Remember, lifeguarding is a unique and rewarding experience that builds character and creates memories that last a lifetime.