My last blog talked about the importance of acknowledging cumulative stress disorder and the causes of first responder stress.
It’s important to recognize that constant first responder stress and the pressure of bad calls can build over time, weigh us down and cause problems down the road.
So how do we arm ourselves against the ever-present stress of everyday EMS work? The answer is self-care.
Self-care can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The key is finding which type works for you.
I’m going to give you some foundational steps that will help you stay as fit for duty as possible.
Hopefully over time you’ll be able to recognize when your first responder stress is adding up so you can work to make positive changes before it turns into a crisis.
Tip 1 — Don’t forget to breathe
Breathe. It may be two or three deep breaths, or it may be the exercise shown below. But when you feel all the stress of the day piling up on you, take a moment and just breathe.
The following is an adaptation from the book, “On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace,” which notes breathing exercises come in many forms labeled by many names. Author David Grossman refers to this practice as tactical breathing.
Relax yourself by taking three to five breaths as described below. Visualize each number as you count.
- Breathe in counting 1, 2, 3, 4
- Stop and hold your breath counting 1, 2, 3, 4
- Exhale counting 1, 2, 3, 4
- Repeat the breathing
- Breath in counting 1, 2, 3, 4
- Pause and hold your breath counting 1, 2, 3, 4
- Exhale counting 1, 2, 3, 4
Tip 2 — Snack and rest when needed
Sleepy? Can you close your eyes for 10 minutes? If you can’t, are you able to shut off your cell phone and do the breathing exercise above?
It doesn’t need to be a full 24 hours away. Sometimes five or 10 minutes can be all you need to bring yourself back in balance.
Hungry? Get a snack. Make sure your bag is packed with some fruit or non-perishable protein bars, energy bars, etc.
And chase that food with two large glasses of water. Hypoglycemia and dehydration do us no favors in assessing and managing first responder stress.
Tip 3 — Get more ZZZZs
Actually sleep. You need high-quality rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to be able to realign and reset. Alcohol may interfere, so if you must have a drink, chase it with a glass of water.
Tip 4 — Talk to someone about it
Try a counselor. I know this is a big, scary word in our profession, but they truly can be helpful.
Much like an auto mechanic, you always want to find one before you need one. If you can find someone who specializes in working with first responder stress, that’s ideal.
This link can align you with counselors in your area based on factors such as insurance providers, type of counselor, specialty and more. If you find someone who you don’t click with, you can always look for someone else.
Just like a mechanic, if they don’t work well on your type of car (or personality), go find one that does.
Remember, you CAN do this. There are more people in your corner than you think.
Stay safe out there.