Stress and Burnout – A Paramedic’s Perspective

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Since I have not been on any adventures lately, I am going to take a short break from my typical article format and share a few topics that are near to my heart from years of working in a stressful career.

This blog article goes out to all my fellow emergency responders, healthcare workers, officers, or anyone who deals with regular stress in the workplace – the end result is the same regardless of career: Burnout.

Are you frequently angry? Are you battling constant fatigue or lack of interest in activities you once found fulfilling? Are you forgetful and having trouble concentrating? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you very likely could be suffering from the effects of stress that lead to burnout.

Having been in an emergency services career for over 20 years now, I have battled and dealt with stress and burnout myself as well as seen it happening in many others. No one ever wants to admit they are suffering from stress or burnout, or, may not even know they are suffering from it, they just know they do not feel the way they used to feel. This article is an appeal to all my industry colleagues to inform yourselves of the signs and symptoms of stress and burnout, health risks of stress, and some suggestions from my experience on ways you can deal with stress and burnout.

First of all, what is burnout? Burnout is the product of repeated and chronic stress on the body and mind. Left untreated or unrecognized, burnout will eventually lead to physical and/or mental collapse due to a variety of other health conditions, such as – high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, drug and/or alcohol abuse, and depression.

There are some obvious symptoms you should be aware of if you think you may be suffering the effects of stress, or may be approaching burnout status: Increasing irritability – with co-workers, friends, family, or patients, new onset of fatigue, unusual weight gain, forgetfulness, lack of empathy and/or detachment from compassion towards the people we committed to serving.

Emergency service, whether it is in the clinical setting or outside of that (EMS, Fire, Law Enforcement, or other first responder type role) share a common type of stress that no other industry faces: the uncertainty of the emergency and the emergency alarm phenomena. Now, I am no expert in stress and its effects on the human body, however, I have first-hand experiences of my own and others close to me that have described the same feelings. In addition to first-hand accounts of my own, there is beginning to be a great deal of research and articles on the unique stresses that emergency personnel are being exposed to (I am not citing any of those specifically in the context of this article, but offering a summary of my experiences along with some of my own research).

Briefly, the uncertainty of the emergency industry itself brings a great deal of inherent stress. You never know what you are going to be dealing with from day-to-day. Most other jobs with high stress are the result of deadlines, demanding management, interpersonal relations, and many others. Emergency service carries all of those along with the stress of dealing with stressful situations where split second decisions must be made. Additionally, like no other career, emergency responders are subjected to the stress of going from a state of relative rest to near instantaneous high stress and high activity as the body prepares itself for a stressful situation. This particular type of stress on emergency responders repeated over time is being researched heavily and has been shown to be very similar to the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – I will not go into that here.

In wrapping up, this is a call to action of all my colleagues, friends, co-workers, and others out there battling with high levels of stress, whether it is in the workplace or elsewhere for that matter; Take care of yourself!  If you find yourself feeling or displaying any of the signs or symptoms mentioned in this article, get some help or do some research to determine on your own if you think you may be suffering the effects of stress or burnout. Do not let yourself become a statistic – from departure from a career with incredible personal rewards, turning to alcohol or drugs, loss of control of your health (physical and/or mental), or worse; becoming depressed or suicidal.

Part one of a three part series.  Stay tuned, and in the meantime, do something fun and relaxing to allow your body and mind reset to a place of peace and contentment. Keep up the great work you do for your communities – it really does not go unnoticed.

Part two coming soon – Limiting Your Stress

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. I’ve become indifferent and it was taking its toll until I got some help. Still a battle everyday to give a crap and not but I’m getting there.
    Just got to keep working on experiencing joy, having hope, and finding grace.
    Be safe!

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