As firefighters and EMS you all are always exposed to contagions. But even so, you are operating in an unprecedented time. It weighs on you for many reasons.
First of all, everyone is told to avoid sick people and stay home, except you and other
healthcare workers, of course. For some of you, it might validate your importance to the community, but to others, it may feel as though you are the sacrificial lamb. It can be hard knowing that this is bad enough that the world as we know it is shutting down, but you are expected to continually put yourself at risk.
Secondly, the extra precautions bring about more stress. Having to clean more, wear PPE, making sure you are getting your temps checked every shift, following different protocols. This is all extra responsibility, and extra responsibility equals extra exhaustion.
Another factor includes the type of responses you get from the public. They are as varied as the personality types you have to deal with. Community responses range on a continuum from anxious and paranoid to cynical and dismissive. Depending on your own response, it can be triggering.
I have worked with multiple healthcare workers in the past weeks, and I know many of you are concerned about what you are bringing home to family members. You might have a kid with asthma, aging parents with COPD or heart disease, friends with diabetes or some other pre-existing condition. Is it on your mind? How are you dealing with it? How is your family responding to the risk? Is it causing a strain? Here are a few suggestions to make a bad situation, better:
Talk to your family about appropriate health precautions. Make sure they are all doing their best to stay healthy.
Listen to your spouse or significant others. Really hear their concerns and try hard not to take it personally.
Communicate with your spouse or significant others regarding changes in your schedule, overtime, the extra stress you might be under. Talk about any accommodations that need to be made in the home.
Work toward having some outdoor time with your family, a time just to relax, laugh, and have fun.
Do you have concerns about your own health, your own life? Different departments are struggling with concerns that there won’t be enough PPE. Responders are worried about having to reuse equipment that would normally be disposable under other circumstances.
There could also be concerns about being in a position to have to face moral and ethical challenges because of the lack of protective equipment.
First responders need to be in control. They are in control of the scene, the care of the patient, the fire suppression. Control usually means safety. Safety for themselves, their partners, their patients. A pandemic takes away the sense of control. It can leave people feeling at a loss. Sometimes it can feel like it is all becoming too much.
How are you dealing with it all? Do you have good coping mechanisms? How resilient are you?
Resiliency is the capacity or ability to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy. It can be thought of as the energy you have available to use for physical, mental, and emotional needs. It’s like a battery charger. It’s there to draw upon to handle your daily challenges and duties, to help you remain calm and think clearly. Here are some things to build your resiliency:
First of all, decrease your exposure to the Covid-19 coverage. Choose a credible source of information that updates you once a day or once every other day. Try to make yourself focus on other things the rest of the time. You may have to limit your time on social media to achieve this.
Focus on what you can control instead of what you can't. You have control over your own preventive practices and self-care. You have some control over how you spend your time and energy during this season. You can choose to keep up an exercise routine, read your devotional, eat healthy, play with your children, and/or watch that movie you haven't had time to see.
Try to avoid ruminating on all the negative possibilities. Plan for what you can. Focus on the probabilities and the likelihoods, not just any and all possible outcomes. Don't catastrophize. Remember this won't likely last forever.
When you are on duty focus on mission critical tasks. Take one step at a time and try not to read too far ahead.
Engage in diaphragmatic breathing at least once a day. As you breathe in, stick out your stomach. As you breathe out, allow your stomach to relax back into your spine. Do 5 repetitions as many times throughout your day as time will allow.
Know a little anxiety is normal so be patient with yourself. In addition, be aware that too much anxiety can cause you to become impulsive, emotionally reactive, and irrational. Take steps to decrease the anxiety like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, scripture memorization, or participating in a hobby. And of course, you can make an appointment with your therapist.
If you have a history of depression or anxiety, even if you haven’t struggled with it for months or years, know that events like this can trigger depressive and anxious responses. Pay attention to your own signs and symptoms. Have there been changes in your eating habits, ability to sleep, sex drive, self-care, moods, motivation, etc.? Ask your loved ones to help keep an eye out, and be willing to listen if they notice changes.
Most EAP’s and insurance companies are covering telemental health right now. You can set up counseling via web based services.
Take care! Be safe and stay healthy!
You are in my thoughts and prayers!