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