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Dealing with Stress as a First Responder

by Dr. Kathleen Hall
first responder stress, first responder

In the past decade, help for first responders has become more widely available and also, readily accepted. If you’re suffering from first responder stress we have some tips for you.

From the 9/11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina and now Hurricane Irene, the way fireman, police officers, and medical personnel are expected to deal with the emotional aftermath of their jobs have evolved.

“It’s not looked upon as negatively as maybe it was before, that you just dealt with it and went home,” said Delaware State Police spokeswoman Sgt. Melissa Zebley in a Delaware News Journal report*. Expecting first responders to just tough it out is no longer the norm.

Nationwide support services are evolving since it is now understood that the effects of stress that first responders go through don’t always manifest themselves immediately. It can be anytime after the event; although it usually is within the first three months, that sleeplessness, headaches, fatigue, nausea, or high blood pressure begin to occur.

So, if you know a selfless first responder or anyone who has been through a traumatic event, share these tips with them and let them know that their reactions, physical and spiritual, are normal and expected.

Tips for First Responder Stress

  • Find a safe way to communicate. The old tough-it-out myth still persists for some people. Instead of being critical, help the person feel safe communicating their thoughts. For some, group therapy is ideal, while others are more comfortable in one-on-one environments. Or if they have a favorite hobby like fishing, walking, or jewelry making, they can use this source of relaxation as a vehicle to help them communicate.
  • Participate in memorials. Utilize these rituals and their symbolic meanings as a manner of acknowledging and accepting what has occurred. If public memorials are not desirable (often people who have been through a trauma dislike crowds) create a personal memorial.
  • Limit stress exposure. For responders, limiting work hours to no more than 12 a day, rotating from high-stress work to low-stress work, and pairing up with a work buddy can help minimize the long-term effects of a traumatic event. For others outside the field, limiting your exposure to images and other emotional triggers can help with regaining your balance.
  • Utilize the mind/body connection. Find a physical activity that will help you emotionally heal. Jogging, walking, meditating, or anything that gets the body moving will allow the natural endorphins to boost your mind and well-being.

*Quote sourced from Stress Management Real Life Story – First Responders Get Help Dealing With Stress, by Robin Brown, The Delaware News Journal

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