Emergency responders: Tips for taking care of yourself

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

There's no doubt that emergency responders are always putting themselves in harm's way, and the COVID-19 outbreak is no exception. It can take a toll on a responder's mental and physical health and this article from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides some tips for caring for yourself if you're an emergency responder. We've summarized them below for you. Read the article for complete details.

Preparing for a response:

  • Try to learn as much as possible about what your role would be in a response.
  • If you will be traveling or working long hours during a response, explain this to loved ones who may want to contact you. Come up with ways you may be able to communicate with them. Keep their expectations realistic, and take the pressure off yourself.
  • Talk to your supervisor and establish a plan for who will fill any urgent ongoing work duties unrelated to the disaster while you are engaged in the response.

During a response:

Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up, it can cause:

  • Burnout - feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed
  • Secondary traumatic stress - stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual's traumatic experiences. 

Coping techniques can help, like:

  • Taking breaks
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Exercising

Responder self-care techniques:

  • Limit working hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts
  • Work in teams and limit amount of time working alone
  • Write in a journal
  • Talk to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences.
  • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques
  • Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise
  • Know that it is okay to draw boundaries and say no
  • Avoid or limit caffeine and use of alcohol

It is important to remember:

  • It is not selfish to take breaks
  • The needs of survivors are not more important than your own needs and well-being
  • Working all of the time does not mean you will make your best contribution
  • There are other people who can help in the response.

After the response: Family and work-life

Resources responders can share with their family members and co-workers:

About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Providence Mental Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

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