Being a paramedic can be very stressful. Stress on its own is neither good or bad, but how it affects our lives can be positive or negative. Too much stress is never good and it is important to take steps as a paramedic to manage your stress levels. Paramedics may be exposed to a higher than normal level of stress due to the following areas:
1. Paramedics work in an often intense environment where decisions can literally mean life or death
2. Paramedics don’t always have the right answers or know what to do in all cases.
3. A paramedic’s day is dynamic… sometimes it’s mundane, sometimes it’s exciting.
4. Paramedics work in a very close proximity to their partners for long hours, over a number of weeks, which all lead to an increased stress environment. I’ve seen even the happiest of friends never want to see each other again after working too many rosters together.
5. Sometimes bad things do happen. As a paramedic, you’re there because people are sick and injured. Some day’s people die.
6. As a paramedic you work through the night when your body, your hormones and your conditioning since birth have all told you that you should be sleeping.
7. Sometimes the uniquely different personalities between each paramedic clashes.
8. When things go wrong and are reviewed, hindsight is always clearer than at the time when everything appears so hurried.
Okay, so we have identified that being a paramedic is a pretty stressful occupation. How do we manage the stress?
Paramedic Tips to Manage Stress
1. Ensure that you make enough time for you outside of work completely away from work. Many paramedics get stuck enjoying the financial benefits of overtime, but quickly find that the stress levels build up. It is important to find a few days of the week to do something totally unrelated to work.
2. Exercising has long been known to increase endorphin levels which lower stress, improve cardiovascular health, and generally make you feel better.
3. Get some sleep. Inadequate sleep is one of the major causes of illness, both physical and mental. Without adequate sleep, being a paramedic will take a heavy toll on your wellbeing.
4. Find hobbies and interests outside of work.
5. Accept that you can’t help everyone.
6. When you are at the “big job” – take your time. You will see that the faster a person tries to get things done the slower it works due to an increase in mistakes. When I attend a major incident or a serious motor vehicle crash I will intentionally slow myself down so that I both appear more confident than I am, and so that while it feels like I’m only slowly doing things that need doing, I’m actually working at a normal and safe speed.
7. Avoid stimulants. You won’t find many paramedics who don’t drink tea and coffee like they’re going out of fashion, but too many stimulants will just increase your already stressed body.
8. Enjoy the job for what it is and remember why you chose to become a paramedic in the first place.
9. Have regular holidays. I know of some Ambulance Services that insist on their paramedics taking short holidays every 4 months for mental health reasons. You will find that paramedics get injured the most in the last few weeks before they go on holidays because their stress levels have reached that critical point associated with fatigue. Whereas, paramedics who have just come back from holidays are less likely to get injured and more likely to pull through the difficult cases.
10. If you are having troubles, talk to someone. This doesn’t have to be another paramedic, but you need to offload to someone.
11. Don’t continuously offload to your husband or wife – this will just drag your normal relationship downwards. If you find that you are continuously offloading to your significant other… maybe you are in the wrong profession?
12. Look at the problems at work as challenges instead of problems.
13. If you really find that the job is getting to you and you’ve tried everything else to improve the job, it is important to make the decision to get out and find a new job. It’s not the end of the world. You spend too much time at work to find it is always miserable.