A Few Ideas to Cutting Stress

We are in that time of year for seasonal changes, temperature dips and spikes, deer/turkey/duck seasons, and of course, preparations for the EMS Symposium in Myrtle Beach the first week of March! As we all know, during the holidays both our work and social calendars kick into high gear. Our work became busier in anticipation of time off over the holidays, and there were more social events at work, with friends, and with family to celebrate the season.

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As a result, multiple studies (and your own lives!) show that stress, anxiety and depression can increase. Here are a few ways you can manage your first responder mental health. For the attorneys, I need to tell you that none of what I’m about to suggest is legal or medical advice. Just some good suggestions on ways to cut down on stress.

Get Enough Sleep

Psychology Today and several other publications report that research shows sleep deprivation can severely impact your mood as well as your ability to perform your job. As much as I like research and evidence-based medicine, I don’t need a PhD (No offense, Remle) to tell me if I don’t get enough sleep, I’m no good to myself or the world. Many accidents involving emergency vehicles — especially ambulances — in South Carolina list “driver fatigue” as a contributing or main factor; several of these accidents involved serious injury or death to patients, crew, or by-standers. Medical mistakes often occur in the field do to mental and physical exhaustion. Your physical and mental health will only deteriorate if you do not get enough sleep, so make sure to go to bed early every night to give yourself, your partner, your patients, and everyone else on the roads and under your care the best chance of having a good day.

Stick To Your Routine

Ever have one (or more) of those days where your routine is just whacked up from the time you get out of bed until you get home? Routines are important and without them, even a small portion of them, we can be really stressed out. The National Alliance of Mental Health recommends sticking to your routine as much as possible, even with the influx of invitations to social events and temptation of holiday overtime dancing like sugar plums in your head during the holidays. The more you stick to your routine, even if it’s just for one part of your day, the more you will feel in control and the less anxious you will get once outside evil forces like mandatory overtime start to disrupt it. Stick to your routine as much as possible, even just a couple of hours or half a day if you can. This way when you are called in to accept additional duties — or party invitations — your routine is still somewhat normalized.

Set a Budget and Then STICK TO IT

More arguments involve money in relationships than every other reason COMBINED. One of the easiest stressors to eliminate during this season is what you spend. We all are tempted to buy “just one more gift” or to take “one more small trip” over the river and through the woods to Mee Maw’s house. It is important all year round to stick to our budgets. We as emergency responders are kinder at heart than most and we can find ourselves over-extending to help the family down the street, a co-worker, or even a complete stranger. It is imperative to set a budget and stick to it, you don’t need to over extend yourself by giving lots of gifts or even just a few expensive ones. There are plenty of ways to show love and gratitude to the world that will not break the bank. Volunteer at the homeless shelter, take a shut-in shopping, or make some cookies. These small gestures often times mean more than any gift you could bring home (unless maybe you went to Jared!). Just make sure that trip is figured into your budget as well.

Don’t Rely on Drugs, Alcohol or Food

Hey out there in Emergency Response Land, raise your hand if you eat your feelings like I often do! You’re not alone. It is easy to take a pill, pour yourself a Jack and Coke, or go into your pantry and bury yourself in a box of HoHos or a bag of Doritos to help relieve the stress and anxiety you feel. There are much healthier ways to deal with the stress, but we as responders hardly ever take this road. It’s a new year, time to make some changes in how we treat OURSELVES. Some of the more healthy outlets? Try anything outside. Maybe try some exercise, fresh air, meditation, talking to a peer counselor, spending time with loved ones. It’s paramount that you make time for yourself to decompress instead of relying on drugs, alcohol or food. In case you’re wondering, mine isn’t HoHos or Doritos; it’s chicken wings —many, many chicken wings.

Most Importantly, Now is a Time to Set Aside Differences

Many of you know I lost my parents at an early age; my mom when I was 16, my dad when I was 23. The holidays are some of the hardest times of the year to be without them. I had many differences with my two sisters along the way, but it’s very important to realize one thing: family is family. You may be thinking, “but you don’t know my story.” Believe me, I do understand. I get it sometimes there are irreconcilable differences, but if it’s at all possible, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to sit down with someone who may have wronged you in the past this month and talk through some stuff? Add one more old friend back to the fold, a relative back into your life. We can never have too many real friends and never can we afford to not have family. Imagine not carrying around the stress of a cross word or a silly action from 20 years ago anymore. The stress that can relieve is palpable and measurable. Because of the decisions and compromises that you make today, right now; you can set yourself and your families up for many fantastic memories of special occasions for the rest of your lives. Who doesn’t need that?

I say it every time I send an email out to you all, and sometimes it may lose its luster and meaning, but every single time I type it or say it, it comes from my heart and the hearts of those in the Bureau of EMS and Trauma. PLEASE take care of yourselves, take care of your crews, and take especially good care of your patients. “And I heard him exclaim as he drove his ambulance out of sight, Merry Christmas to All and to everyone I just gave Ketamine, GOODNIGHT”

Rob Wronski is the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC) Bureau Chief of EMS. He has served in many roles since becoming a firefighter paramedic in 1991, culminating with his selection as Chief of EMS for the state where he has served for nearly three years. He has held several executive positions including Assistant Chief of the St. Andrews Fire Department in Charleston, Medical Officer of the Mt. Pleasant Fire Department, and a Shift Commander in the Beach Park (IL) Fire Department. His experience includes working in fire-based EMS, including ALS and BLS first response as well as fire based and county based ALS transport.

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