Each day, first responders are faced with many forms of extreme stress including life-and-death decisions, human suffering, separation from family and intense risk-taking. While those in this profession have chosen this lifestyle and wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s a high-stress career that can lead to both physical and emotional injuries.
Emergency medical technicians, fire fighters, paramedics, police officers and other first responders are required to remain in control of their emotions at all times. There is no time for on-the-job meltdowns, and many in these helping professions force themselves to be calm and in control even when experiencing a great deal of emotional turbulence.
The Effects of Cumulative Stress
First responders are faced with many kinds of stress, including the threat of dangers from fires or natural disasters, or confrontation by people who are out of control or violent. On any given day, there can be environmental or health risks, exposure to diseases and risks of accidents. If you are a first responder, you may have to work long hours in extreme conditions. You may have to battle fatigue or discomfort on a daily basis.
The effects of cumulative stress can show up in several different ways including:
- Fatigue or burnout, depleted energy and loss of enthusiasm for helping others
- Depression, extreme sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability, tension or anxiety
- Grief or a deep-rooted sense of loss
- Conflict with loved ones
Stress can also cause you to exhibit a wide range of physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension or sleep problems. Long-term stress can lead to major health problems that develop gradually, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or heart disease.
The Consequences of Untreated Stress
First responders are really good at being there to help others, but often reluctant to admit they need help themselves. Untreated stress can lead to a series of problems such as anxiety, depression, overeating or undereating. You may also turn to chemicals such as alcohol, street drugs or prescription drugs or other addictive behaviors such as affairs, porn or compulsive gambling.
Reacting to the stresses related to being a first responder doesn’t mean that you are weak or that you should be ashamed of needing help. Doing your best job means that you need to have the ability to cope with stress and keep functioning. Self-care methods such as exercise, deep breathing and meditation can help to relieve stress.
Reaching Out for Help
If self-care methods of relieving stress don’t work, you may need to seek the help of a mental health professional. A psychotherapist who specializes in trauma can offer guidance in coping with the extreme stress that you deal with on a day-to-day basis, or feelings that you have been pushing down over a long period of time. If you have developed physical or psychological dependence on alcohol or drugs, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward getting past it.
While you might think that getting help from a mental health professional is a sign of weakness, it’s actually a sign of strength. Getting help means that you are taking responsibility for remaining clear-headed and functional. With the help of a counselor, you will be able to be available to help those who need your skills and expertise.