Taking Care of Your Own – Recognizing Stress

September 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Have you ever been this guy?

Maybe you aren’t sitting at a computer screen with your stress.  It’s hard not to have felt stress in the job we do. From the calls we run, the people we deal with, the administrators we would prefer NOT to deal with there’s stress.  Add to that the roles we fill outside of our jobs. As I was thinking about this post, I thought about the various different roles that add stress to my life. They include: Wife, mother, employee, boss, Instructor, Student, Author, Daughter, Sister, Friend, Homeowner, Bill payer.

And that’s just daily stress! Add to that the unexpected, the stressors that we can’t plan for (which as a planner can really throw me into a tailspin) and a normal person can really be thrown off. Heck, in just the past month I’ve dealt with a hurricane (no power for 5 days), start of EMT-I Class, my five year old starting kindergarten, the first anniversary of my mother’s death, and the list could go on.  As EMS providers, Firefighters, Emergency Managers, the expectation is that we can deal with stress, that we know how. But do we really?

I’m putting together a new program for my office that focuses on Health and Safety for responders and in doing so am trying to figure out what the focus needs to be. We are looking at physical and mental well-being, as well as overall incident scene safety. One of the biggest issues is figuring out how to teach maintaining mental well-being.  We are GREAT at recognizing individuals who are having PTSD symptoms.  We have plans in place in many areas on how to offer help to those individuals.  But, why do we wait until they have already been impacted to offer help? Why aren’t we preparing them for the field first, then offering help IF something happens (not WHEN)?  Why do the basic training courses only skim over the emotional impact of the calls we run?  We’ve got to start being more proactive instead of reactive, even though it’s what we are used to. One of the ways to do this is to offer resliency training.

Resilience is an individual’s ability to adapt well and recover quickly after enduring stressful, life-changing situations. It provides mechanisms to allow an individual to deal with the incident AS it occurs, not after. Most resliency training provides training on building four types of resiliency:

  • Cognitive — preserving attention, memory, judgment and problem-solving skills.
  • Physical — maintaining well-being through regular exercise, a healthy diet and restful sleep.
  • Emotional — approaching life with a realistic, balanced and flexible disposition and addressing rather than avoiding problems.
  • Spiritual — practicing and keeping in mind the concepts of forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, true meaning and purpose.

I once asked “Why can’t we add reslience training to basic EMT courses, Fire Courses, or even agency orientation?” The answers I got focused mostly on money and time. Really? Consider the time and money spent providing assistance to the provider who ends up suffering from PTSD and maybe it will seem like a much better investment.

Providing this type of training will build stronger providers, develop a better relationship with the provider, and hopefully allow individuals to stay in the system longer.  We are so great at getting the community ready for a big event or emergency, why aren’t we doing more of that for our own?

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