There was a time, in the fire service, when the philosophy was, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the Firehouse.” Half a century later we’ve come to realize that philosophy was seriously flawed.
Being an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) professional is a career which can bring many rewards. However, the nature of the job can also expose the provider to a broad range of physical, emotional, and mental stressors. These include long hours, highly emotional situations, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition.
Maintaining mental health and personal well-being are crucial to developing personal resilience in this demanding line of work. In this blog post, we will discuss self-awareness regarding your well-being and mental health, recognition of burnout, and coping mechanisms to help manage the unique stressors of being an EMS professional.
Recognition of Stressors
The first step to develop self-awareness and resilience is recognizing specific stressors and stress triggers. With regard to EMS these can include:
- Exposure to traumatic events and human suffering
- Emotional demands of interacting with patients and their families
- Irregular work schedules and sleep disruptions
- Need to make quick, life-altering decisions.
There is no cookie-cutter recipe
Not everyone reacts the same way to the same triggers, and in some cases, even situations that most people might not consider stressful may serve as a trigger for others. Take time to reflect on which stressors affect you the most and identify any additional stressors that may be unique to your situation.
It may be easy to recognize emotional issues with others, but the same can be a real challenge to recognize in oneself.
Check in with yourself regularly and ask, “How am I doing?” Try to set aside some time each week for a little introspective journey.
Items to assess may include:
- How am I feeling emotionally and physically?
- Am I experiencing any symptoms of burnout or compassion fatigue?
- How well am I coping with work-related stress?
- Are there any signs that I need to seek professional help?
Honesty is the best policy. It can be difficult to self-reflect and admit to having issues. You must develop a level of self-acceptance.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout can impact every area of a first responder’s life. It is part of the reason the average why EMS professionals only stays on the job for an average of five years.
The term “burnout” was first coined in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He defined the condition as “being exhausted, listless, and unable to cope due to the severe stress and high ideals experienced by people working in helping professions.”
Burnout typically has three major symptoms:
- A lack of engagement with or withdrawing from the workplace and co-workers
- A negative attitude toward others and their personal goals
These symptoms can manifest in many ways, including:
- Poor job performance
- Poor nutrition
- Difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks
- Poor or ineffective sleep
- Nightmares or flashbacks
- Loss of interest in normal activities
Burnout is surprisingly common. Nearly half of all firefighters in the U.S. are likely to experience burnout and the health problems that accompany it.
Resilience is your ability to bounce back from adversity and adapt to challenging situations. Some strategies for building resilience include:
- Establishing a strong support network of friends, family, and colleagues
- Developing healthy coping strategies, such as exercise, meditation, and hobbies
- Seeking opportunities for professional growth and development
- Practicing self-compassion and setting realistic expectations
- Utilizing Stress Reduction Techniques
Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily routine.
Some popular techniques include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Deep breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Visualization and guided imagery
Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you and make a conscious effort to practice them regularly.
During the pre-conference programs First There First Care is offering a workshop on maintaining your personal mental and emotional wellbeing. Details about this offering are available on the website at www.firsttherefirstcare.com
No Shame in that Game
Despite increased efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues, there remains a stigma associated with seeking professional help. If you find that your self-assessment reveals signs of significant distress or mental health concerns, it’s crucial to seek professional help. Mental health professionals can provide valuable support, guidance, and treatment to help you navigate the challenges of being an EMS professional. Almost all employers have some kind of Employee Assistance (EAP) program. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist if you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope on your own.
As an EMS professional, your well-being and mental health are critical to your ability to provide life-saving care for others. Regular self-assessment, building resilience, and utilizing stress reduction techniques, can help you better manage the unique stresses of your profession. Remember to seek professional help when needed and prioritize your self-care to ensure a long, fulfilling career in EMS.
Renew and refresh
There’s nothing like an action and information filled conference to get you refocused, energized, and help you look at the profession from a different angle.
Rediscover why you got into this profession in the first place. Meet new people and make new contacts. Raising the bar is a great way to overcome burnout. Visit www.firsttherefirstcare.com to register and develop a new perspective.