Posts Tagged ‘EMS Services’

Stress Management for Emergency Services Professionals

     Emergency services are a vital part of any community. Some communities have paid personnel for fire and ambulance protection but for most smaller towns (like Shippensburg, PA) most work other “paid” jobs and volunteer their time for those in need. The amount of time they commit to their companies is huge. Not only are they there for the communities time of need (emergencies) they are constantly involved in training exercises, and fundraising to raise the necessary funds to continue to do what they do. These men and women in our communities are Extraordinary! When asked why they do what they do some will state, ” Its just in my blood to help others” or ” I can’t imagine not volunteering and running calls, I like helping others in their time of need”. Credit needs to be given to these saints as well as the younger people in our communities that are becoming involved in these volunteer organizations. 

     I had the privilege this week to give a presentation to my local EMS (Emergency Medical Services) on dealing with stress within the emergency services profession. Not only do these saints deal with everyday stress like everyone else they are also subject to additional stressors and triggers, if you will, in responding to calls on a daily basis. They unlike most in the community are witness to life’s tragedies firsthand. Sometimes they are the last person to interact with a victim before they die, other times they are the one keeping the victim alive, and still others they are the ones that act quickly in life saving measures to enable the victim to live. 

     Working in this environment can and often does take it’s toll. 20 to 30 years ago, those who became upset over a “bad call” were told to deal with it, man-up, its part of the job-get used to it, etc. Many of those in the EMS services at that time tried those strategies and continued to wonder what was going on with them because they couldn’t just “deal with it”. Stress in the EMS service and all Emergencies services can be classified into three specific categories.

Critical Incident Stress: Occurs when you experience an unusual or extreme emotional reaction after exposure to an event that is overwhelming to you. This is subjective based on each individual’s life experience and belief system. What is overwhelming to one person may not be overwhelming to another person.

Delayed Stress:  In some cases stress reactions to an overwhelming event do not occur until days, weeks, months or even years later. The reactions are just as debilitating and impacting as a recent event. Delayed stress can occur when people go into shock after an event, refuse to acknowledge the impact of the event, or when exposure to an event is prolonged. This type of stress can also be referred to as PTSD.

Cumulative Stress: Is the most common and can be the most damaging. It occurs when a person’s normal coping mechanism are continuously overwhelmed. It can also occur when you don’t build in daily self care activities that are regenerative and stress reducing. Cumulative stress reactions are very debilitating. People begin to believe that frequent headaches, acid stomach, irritability, poor concentration, are normal. This produces further stress which can lead to serious physical and emotional illnesses. 

All three of the above mentioned types of stress can manifest themselves into a clinical mental health diagnosis. Becoming aware of the signs of stress (emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally) can help in identifying the triggers and reduce recovery time. It is important to note that after developing any of these types of symptoms, it can be especially helpful to talk to a professional counselor. 

Emotional Stress will appear in the following ways: Denial, Fear, Depression, Grief, Anger, Worry, Uncertainty, Hopelessness, Helplessness, Feeling lost, Wishing to Hide, Anxiety, Panic, and Inappropriate Emotions.

Cognitive Signs and Symptoms: Difficulty Making Decisions, Confusion, Difficulty Naming Familiar Items, Poor Concentration, Blaming Others, Memory Problems, and Replaying Events Over and Over. 

Behavioral Signs of Stress: Withdrawal, Suspiciousness, Excessive Humor or Silence, Increased Smoking, Alcohol or Food, Change in Activity Level, Angry Outbursts, and Crying Spells. 

Stress management skills make it easier for your body, mind and emotions to return to normal more quickly after a stressful event. Stress management skills include: Developing a balanced lifestyle, Daily relaxation routines, Developing a Positive Mental Attitude, Balancing life’s activities so not to become stressed, and working for a lifestyle of Peak Performance.

     Being an emergency responder is rewarding work, but as with most stressful professions or volunteer services the demands can lead to abnormal levels of stress. Thank you for your services. Please don’t be afraid to ask for additional professional help if you can identify with many of the symptoms listed above. Some companies have funds set aside to help with the costs of mental health counseling for support. 

Until Next Time,

Lory

July 2014
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