EMS personnel are exposed to a number of different situations on the job that can deeply affect their mental health and well-being. Caring for the needs of others in emergency situations can put a large amount of stress on someone, especially having to do it multiple times in one day. To add to that, EMS personnel also deal with irregular schedules, lack of sleep or disruptions of their sleep and irregular eating schedules, all of which can add on to the already mounting levels of stress. It is important for each person working in the health care field to understand the effects of stress and be able to recognize and deal with it as it comes up during their job.
Incidents such as car accidents, the death of children, murder, rape, domestic abuse, and assaults can leave a lasting impact on an EMS provider. Such events, if not dealt with properly, can lead to an EMS provider feeling depressed, or lead to post traumatic stress disorder or even suicide. Just because someone has been doing the job for a long time or has seen a lot of trauma does not mean they are immune from the effects witnessing those incidents. It is very important for us as providers to make sure that we deal with the incidents we see in a positive and constructive way that does not lead to us causing harm to ourselves or anyone else
Stress is your bodies physical reaction to some form of demand or event. This can be caused by something good or something bad. When an event happens that causes stress, the body releases chemicals that initiate the “fight or flight” response by activating the sympathetic nervous system. This response is good when the event is caused by some form of physical danger because it provides the body with more strength and energy. However, if the stress is caused by something emotional, it can be harmful because there is no outlet for the chemical response.
The way we react to stress can be categorized as acute stress reactions, delayed stress reactions, or cumulative stress reactions. Acute stress reactions occur in the moment, such as when an EMS provider responds to a call. The provider's adrenaline is pumping and they are able to focus better due to the stress. Delayed stress reactions occur after the stressful event has occurred and the nervous feeling continues to build. Cumulative stress reactions occur when someone is exposed to excessive stress. This can occur for EMS providers who go on multiple stressful calls and do not have the chance to release stress as it builds up. People who are under excessive or prolonged stress can become tired, sick or unable to concentrate. The stress can even lead to mental breakdowns.
It's important to be able to recognize when your body is in stress so that you can manage it effectively before it gets out of hand. However, it is not alway easy to recognize when your body is stressed. If someone you know mentions that you have been acting different or that you seem stressed, keep an open mind and take into consideration what they have to say. The best way to manage stress is to be prepared and know how to deal with it. Many EMS agencies understand the stress and the affect it can have on their employees. For this reason, many of them offer free counseling or treatment. Familiarize yourself with the services your agency provides so that you know where to go if and when you feel stressed. Although many healthcare providers get very involved with their work, it is important to find a healthy balance between your personal life and work by separating yourself from time to time and spend time with family and friends.
In this career, your mental health is as important as your physical health. Taking care of yourself in every aspect early on in your career will ensure that you have a lasting, rewarding career.