Too Stressed to Care?

 

The Problem of Burnout Among Emergency Services Personnel

Many emergency services personnel suffer from stress and poor mental health. The unique pressures they face in their job role, coupled with feeling unable to tell colleagues they’re suffering, and pressure to attend work even when they’re unwell often leads to burnout. Many personnel eventually leave their chosen profession, and either change careers completely or accept a role that takes them away from the front-line.

The unique pressures emergency service staff face

Emergency services personnel face some unique stressors in their job role:

  • They have no idea what the day will bring: They might have to deal with a fatal road traffic accident, or a serious industrial accident. This uncertainty can be stressful.
  • The stress triggered by an emergency: An emergency causes the body to produce a physical response. The ‘fight of flight’ system is triggered; blood sugar levels rise, the body releases adrenaline, and the blood pressure and heart rate increases. The body might remain in this state for a while, and another emergency might occur in that time. In effect, the body and mind are always in a heightened state of arousal.
  • Tension with colleagues: In a fast-paced environment which has to deal with one crisis after another, there tends to be more tension between people.
  • Frequent exposure to tragedy and trauma: Some people might never witness a traumatic incident in their lifetime, yet many emergency services personnel are exposed to these situations on a daily basis.
  • Fear: This can be fear of going into an emergency situation, or fear of someone taking legal action if they perceive you have made a ‘mistake.’

What is burnout?

Burnout occurs when prolonged exposure to stress causes a significant depletion of your physical and/or your emotional strength. It has such significant effects on a person that they might feel they can’t function normally on a personal or professional level.

Symptoms of Burnout

People who suffer from burnout may get all or some of these symptoms:

  • Feeling drained: Lacking energy every day and dreading the day ahead.
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Physical symptoms: Experiencing chest pains, shortness of breath, digestive problems, and headaches.
  • Becoming ill more often: Stress weakens the immune system, so colds and other infections occur more frequently.
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Anxiety and depression: Feeling burnt out can reduce resilience against stress, so sufferers might feel hopeless.
  • Feeling irritable and tense: Stress can cause irritability and angry outbursts which can affect personal and professional relationships.

How to avoid burnout

Build resilience to stress by looking after your physical and mental health: Exercise regularly, eat well, get enough sleep, and use techniques like mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and calm the mind.

Make use of downtime: do something you enjoy when you’re not at work. It’s easy to cut out enjoyable activities because you’re ‘too tired’ or ‘can’t be bothered’ but taking time for yourself brings essential balance between life and work.

Find support: whether it’s talking to a friend or a trusted colleague, it really helps to have someone to talk to. It helps you to retain a sense of perspective too.

Can burnout be avoided?

Recognising that you’re stressed and managing it is the key to avoiding burnout. If workplaces change their mentality from treating asking for help as a form of weakness, to one that believes in the value of offering comprehensive support to employees suffering from stress, burnout doesn’t have to be inevitable.

How we can help

We use our expertise in workforce wellbeing, individual and organisational wellbeing, and performance and trauma management to help front-line emergency services staff become better equipped to manage the pressures and challenges they face. The services we offer include tailored support for personnel, their managers and their families, stress-relieving strategies, and therapeutic interventions.

For more information on our work with the emergency services, contact Maureen on 07939 845920 or via maureen@mocallaghan.co.uk , or contact Kirsty Knight on 07816 923789 or at kirsty@openmindstherapy.co.uk

Staying Resilient in Difficult Times

 

Everyone faces life-changing and stressful events at some point in their lives. But how do people get through tough times? How do they come back from tragedy, or a life-changing setback?

The answer is that they draw upon their resilience. People survive stressful times because they are adaptable, and they have an ability to become stronger in times of adversity, whether at work or in their personal life.

The unique pressures emergency services personnel face

It’s important to look after your mental health. One in four people will develop a mental health problem every year, and research carried out by Mind shows that emergency services personnel are much more likely to be affected than the general working population. A huge 87.5% of emergency services workers have suffered from stress or poor mental health. This is mainly due to the unique pressures they face, like regular exposure to traumatic incidents, as well as excessive workloads and long working hours. Work-related stress is common, but excessive and prolonged stress can harm mental and physical health.

The effects of chronic stress

Stress can cause physical problems like headaches, digestive problems, and hypertension, and it also weakens the immune system and causes insomnia. Excessive stress has also been linked to depression, obesity, and heart disease. These problems are compounded when people use unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, like drinking alcohol excessively, overeating, or smoking more.

What is resilience and how can it help?

Resilience is the ability to cope with the stresses life throws at us, and to come back stronger. Being resilient can help you to deal with stress, anxiety, and difficult emotions before they turn into more serious mental health problems. Fortunately, resilience can be taught and learned. Here are some ways to develop resilience.

The key to becoming resilient

Being aware and managing your thoughts: Noticing what is going on around you and paying attention to your thoughts. Realising that your thoughts are just thoughts and interpreting your thoughts in a rational way. Your thoughts are not facts, but they have an extraordinary power to control your actions.

When your thoughts are running away with you, it can be hard to make rational decisions. A way to think more rationally about a situation is to think about alternative explanations for the situation.

An example would be if you emailed your manager and they didn’t get back to you. Your mind will offer what it believes is the most obvious reason, based on your experiences and belief system. If you have had a bad experience with a manager in the past or you don’t believe in your own abilities as an employee, you might choose to believe that all managers are ignorant, or they haven’t replied because they don’t like you or think you’re bad at your job. But this explanation might be completely wrong!

Think about alternative explanations which are more likely, such as your manager is extra busy, or they’ve been out of the office all day, and this will help you think more rationally about the situation.

 

 

Knowing when to ask for help: This is not always easy, but knowing when, and how to ask for help is a big part of becoming resilient. Everyone needs help at some point in their lives and being able to reach out to others for support is a great source of comfort and makes any problem seem much more manageable.

Looking after your physical and mental health: This increases your ability to cope with life’s challenges without becoming ill. Taking regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep is crucial for wellbeing, as is cultivating a calm mind using techniques like mindfulness and meditation. Practicing mindfulness can reduce stress by helping you to accept your thoughts and feelings without making a judgment on them.

How we can help

We use our expertise in workforce wellbeing, individual and organisational wellbeing, and performance and trauma management to help front-line emergency services staff become better equipped to manage the pressures and challenges they face. The services we offer include tailored support for personnel, their managers and their families, stress-relieving strategies, and therapeutic interventions.

For more information on our work with the Emergency Services, contact Maureen on 07939 845920 or via maureen@mocallaghan.co.uk, or contact Kirsty Knight on 07816 923789 or at kirsty@openmindstherapy.co.uk