Avoiding Burnout as a First Responder

Avoiding Burnout as a First Responder

Burnout is a state of mind characterized by emotional and mental exhaustion. When someone develops burnout in the workplace, they may begin to perform poorly, develop a cynical outlook, and struggle to cope with stress. While burnout can happen in any profession, first responders are especially susceptible due to the intensely stressful nature of their jobs. Even those who are passionate about their careers must be aware of the possibility of burnout. It’s also necessary to take preventative measures to avoid burnout and understand when to seek professional help.

Find Balance

As a first responder, it can be easy to fall into a cycle of overachieving because many first responders are naturally motivated and goal-oriented people. While achievement and productivity are highly rewarded in our culture, it is essential to remember that your success is not only measured by your professional accomplishments. Real success also means finding a way to balance different facets of your life. In addition to work, you should enjoy healthy relationships and pursue outside hobbies and interests. Ideally, work should only occupy one-third of your time and energy in life. If you feel like it is adding up to much more than that, you may be lacking balance. Demanding too much of yourself at work will eventually backfire, causing burnout and making you perform poorly on the job. If you find your mind is always on work, even during other activities, a therapist may be able to help. Therapy can help you relax and foster growth in other areas of your life. Many first responders avoid seeking professional mental health treatment because of the stigma associated with asking for help. It is important to remember that your ability to perform in your role depends on your mental wellness. Seeking help when you need it is the most responsible choice you can make for yourself and the people you work to serve and protect.  

Find Connection

Research has found that one of the most important aspects of preventing burnout is the creation and maintenance of close relationships with coworkers, friends, and family. You must enjoy the company of your colleagues and feel that you can trust them. Additionally, you should be able to open up to at least one coworker when you have had a hard day, knowing that they will listen and support you. As a first responder, your coworkers are often the only people who can genuinely understand the stressors of your job. Fostering healthy relationships at work can help prevent isolation and help you to feel that you are being seen and heard.

Additionally, it is equally important to maintain close relationships with people outside of your profession. First responders are susceptible to the development of a cynical perspective. They may begin to feel like they can only relate to others in their field. Keeping friendships with people in other careers can help you to keep an open mind and a positive outlook on life. While you may sometimes need to talk about your day on the job, there will be times when you need to talk about anything but work. You must keep lines of communication available to yourself in both spheres of your social life.

Stay Healthy

Though we are not always consciously aware of the complexities of the mind-body connection, the effects are undeniable. Taking care of your mind prevents many physical health issues, and taking care of your body encourages a healthy mind. You can create a healthy routine for your mind by practicing meditation and mindfulness. While these techniques were once thought of as strictly spiritual practices, they are now recognized as a legitimate means to cope with stress and improve focus and clarity. Additionally, you will be far more prepared to deal with the stress of work and prevent burnout if your body is physically healthy. Exercise daily, eat balanced and regular meals, stay hydrated, and make sure you are getting enough sleep. All of these habits can fall by the wayside when you are feeling overwhelmed at work. Maintaining a strong foundation of physical health, even during difficult times, is critical to your mental wellbeing. It is also important to avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as substance abuse. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to numb emotional and physical pain. As a result, those struggling with professional burnout are at an increased risk of addiction. If you think you may be using substances to cope with the stress of the job, it may be time to seek professional help.

The First Responders Treatment Program uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career. Nor do you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships. If you or someone you love is struggling, call us now at 888-443-4898

How Can You Identify and Avoid PTS Triggers?

How Can You Identify and Avoid PTS Triggers?

Post traumatic stress , or PTS, is a psychological condition caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.  This may be an event that happened in a moment, such as a serious accident or act of violence, or it may be a series of events that occurred over a long period of time, such as repeated exposure to violence and suffering, or abuse.  People with PTS often display symptoms that come and go, sometimes triggered by an external person, place, or circumstance. Some triggers are obvious, while others are more difficult to pinpoint and avoid. Learning your triggers, or the triggers of a loved one with PTS can help reduce symptoms as well as prepare for symptom management when triggers are unavoidable.  

The Development of Triggers

When attempting to understand many mental health issues, it is important to consider how disruptive symptoms are often a manifestation of important survival skills. The emotions of anxiety and panic have evolved as a part of the body’s fight or flight system, which kicks into gear whenever we experience a threat. During a traumatic incident, your body and mind begin to function differently.  Your brain may stop some normal functions entirely during intense moments in order to focus on dealing with the threat. Your body will respond by speeding up your heart rate and amplifying your senses. This redirection of brain activity can change the way your brain processes and stores memory.  This means that the memory of a traumatic event may remain extremely vivid long after it has passed. Additionally, instead of being filed in your memory with other events of the past, trauma remains at the forefront of your mind in a way that keeps you in a constant state of fear. Even when your flight or fight response begins to quell, the memory of trauma may be called back to the present moment by triggers. Triggers can include anything that stimulates your senses in a way that reminds you of your trauma.  For example, if it was raining on the day you experienced violence or a serious accident, you may begin to have symptoms every time it rains.  A smell, taste, loud sound, or unexpected touch can all send you into a PTS episode. Symptoms that result from a PTS trigger may include fear, panic, rapid heart rate, and the feeling that the incident is happening to you again.  The most severe PTS episodes may include sights and sounds associated with the memory of your trauma, making it feel as if it is actually happening right in front of you.

Identifying Triggers

While some triggers, like loud noises, are common among many of those who struggle with PTS, potential triggers are widespread and vary between each individual.  Anything abrupt or unexpected can trigger similar responses to your trauma, bringing back emotions related to the traumatic event. Additionally, seeing things happen to other people on movies or television, even when it is fictional, can remind you of your trauma and trigger a PTS episode.  The sense of smell is often overlooked when attempting to identify triggers, but in fact, smells are strongly tied to memories. For example, someone who experienced trauma that involved fire may be triggered by the smell of smoke.

It is always important to remember that triggers can be so subtle that even the individual being triggered is unaware of what caused the onset of their symptoms. 

Coping with Triggers

The best way to learn to cope with the symptoms of PTS, including identifying and managing triggers, is to seek professional help.  A therapist can help you to think about ways you can reduce or eliminate certain triggers in your life, as well as how best to respond to triggers that are unavoidable. Certain practices, such as mindfulness and meditation, can help you to harness more control over your own mind so that you don’t feel helpless in the face of triggering situations.  It is also important to remember that PTS, anxiety, and panic are all exacerbated when trauma is ignored and unpleasant emotions left undealt with. Talk therapy can greatly reduce PTS episodes and help you to process much of the pain that has caused your mental health issues.  Additionally, successfully coping with PTS means avoiding unhealthy coping strategies, such as substance abuse. Many people with PTS turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with their symptoms or help them get through triggering situations, however, substance abuse always worsens mental health disorders and may also lead to addiction. Seeking treatment from professionals equipped to help those with addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders is the best way to overcome addiction while also achieving lasting mental wellness.

If you, a loved one, or work partner is struggling, we want you know that you are not alone.

We are here to help with our culturally competent clinical team that uses trauma-informed strategies to address the unique needs public safety professionals. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigma may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult. Asking for help is the first and most important step you can take to begin the process of healing and recovery.

    
Understanding mental clarity in recovery

Understanding mental clarity in recovery

Choosing a life of recovery comes with personal growth, self-reflection, and reparation to relieve the weight of guilt and shame. Yes, the path forward can be painful yet fulfilling. Working towards a sober lifestyle requires sacrifice but can yield moments of clarity that reaffirm the decision to live free of all substances. 

First responders who have stayed sober for extended periods are privy to the mental health benefits of experiencing peace of mind. However, any long-tenured recovery alumni can attest that these moments of clarity, feeling content in sobriety and life in general, often lack their portability.

Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily take them with you. Given the impermanence of contentment, many people will be chasing the feeling. It’s essential to remember that it’s not the pursuit of clarity that leads to clarity itself but rather a commitment to living harmoniously within ourselves.

Recognizing the validity of feelings, thoughts, and emotions allows a person in recovery to honor and empower themselves. In many ways, the journey back to this place of wholeness lies in one’s ability to listen inward.

A moment of clarity can be a double-edged sword

While the feeling of epiphany can provide a cathartic sense of healing, the experience of feeling contentment can lead to experiencing the pink cloud effect. Commonly experienced early on in one’s sobriety, the pink cloud effect describes a carefree euphoria associated with the joy of sobriety; however, this sensation can occur after years of leading a sober lifestyle.

Experiencing a sense of purpose and self-assurance is a great place to reach in recovery. But after this confidence fades, those in recovery can begin to wonder why they lost their sobriety mojo; this can result in the pursuit of feeling accomplished rather than recognizing the strategies which led to reaching that high point of validation in the first place.

Chasing an emotional state can be particularly risky for people in recovery, as alcohol or substance use is viewed as a shortcut to suppressing any doubt and uncertainty one is feeling. 

First responders are particularly prone to extended bouts of anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, these episodes can go unnoticed as first response work often causes individuals coping with depression to suppress the symptoms to conduct themselves at work.

Manic-depressive tendencies entail feelings of intense, positive moods, followed by immersive pools of negativity. The extreme shifts from high to low can be destabilizing, making it challenging to overcome disbelief in oneself while also complicating the ability to trust self-assurance.

First responders and anyone in recovery should remember that depressive feelings will pass with time and treatment, just as happy moments are not guaranteed. 

Staying level-headed during low points

A healthy mindset can recognize that reactions within one’s brain chemistry determine a recovering alcoholic or substance user’s perspective.

That is not to say that individuals are powerless to their feelings, but acknowledging that the scope of control is limited makes an effort necessary to manage mental health less overwhelming. First responders often experience elevated mood swings, particularly after extended on-call shifts.

The reliance on adrenaline jump-starts a series of emotional responses that can be manic in the heat of first response action but depressive once a shift has ended. 

Lacking control over these fluctuations, first responders often look to alcohol and substances as a means to exercise control over their emotions for a brief period.

Some are using manifests in subdued, emotional expression, while others tap into emotions that may seem less accessible in sobriety. Still, relinquishing the desire to ascertain greater control will help those in recovery accept and focus on the little things within their agency.

Instead of trying to do too much and ultimately disappointing one’s lofty expectations, those who can realistically identify strategies for managing emotional highs and lows are likely to be more successful in recovery.

Managing mental clarity

When you manage expectations of mental health, observing your behavior without ascribing judgment is the first step toward making a significant change. 

It’ll allow individuals in recovery to mark patterns in their behavior: how does work affect my mood, what events trigger a bout of depressive tendencies, do my thoughts of using follow a particular feeling? Taking the time to self-reflect sets up healthy realizations that will allow you clarity, growth, and sustained strength in recovery.

Learn how hypermasculinity can alter behavior, mask depression, and lead to addiction

Learn how hypermasculinity can alter behavior, mask depression, and lead to addiction

According to the Pan American Health Organization, one in five men will not reach the age of 50 in America due to issues relating to hypermasculinity, also known as toxic masculinity.

While masculinity itself is not negative, hypermasculinity is a cultural issue that harms men just as much as it does women. 

Researchers continue to uncover the many connections between hypermasculinity and poor mental health in men. This is even more true for men raised or working in hypermasculine environments, like the field of first responders. 

Understanding how hypermasculinity can affect you or your loved one is an important first step in creating better mental health and a happier environment.

It’s crucial to learn how behaviors can be altered, depression can be masked, and addictions created due to toxic masculinity. 

Hypermasculine behavior

Hypermasculinity is a learned behavior in many cultures, especially in America. 

We’ve all been socialized to think of specific characteristics as masculine and others as feminine. Men are encouraged to display dominance, suppress their emotions, and take control of every situation. 

While “feminine” traits, such as vulnerability, emotionality, and passivity, are often socially looked down upon when displayed in a man. Of course, the reality is that every person, man or woman, is a combination of masculine and feminine traits. 

Unfortunately, old-fashioned stereotypes persist in every aspect of our society. They can cause many men to internalize their emotions and cope in very unhealthy ways. 

For some men, a lifetime of gendered socialization creates a barrier between themselves and others. They might feel as if sharing their feelings or expressing emotions is wrong. 

This attitude can be further exacerbated by specific subgroups that encourage hypermasculinity. Such groups include gender-segregated sports teams and some male-dominated professions. 

While these environments offer a connection with teammates and colleagues, they can also create a sense of pressure and shame. Whenever anyone behaves in a way that is not considered masculine enough, these groups may make fun of them or question their manhood.

Hypermasculinity and depression

While everyone is different, there are some common issues to look for in men with mental health issues who are struggling with hypermasculinity. 

For example, these men may feel sad or unmotivated due to depression but express their feelings via anger or rage. They often feel that these emotions are more socially acceptable than sadness or vulnerability. 

Some additional symptoms to look for include fatigue, irritability, sleep issues, a lack of concentration, and a disinterest in things they once enjoyed.

While hypermasculinity and gendered thinking harm women as well, women are given much more “wiggle room” when it comes to conforming to gender norms. Men, however, are often forced to fit into rigid definitions of masculinity. 

When men are inevitably unable to live up to the social standard, they often face an identity crisis. This is especially true for men who’ve spent most of their lives conforming to hypermasculine behavior. 

In circumstances where that is not possible, such as the development of a mental health disorder, they don’t know what to do. Depression is a common mental illness among men, claiming the lives of more men than women every year by suicide. 

The only way to combat depression and other mental illnesses is through treatment that usually involves talk therapy. Letting go of a hypermasculine perception is often the first step to mental wellness for many men.

Hypermasculinity and addiction

The harm caused by hypermasculinity is often severe. Many men feel that they’ll never be good enough or struggle to recognize themselves as they go through an emotional hurdle. 

Many men who struggle with these common issues turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Substance abuse is used to numb and mask the pain but may also allow men to express themselves in a way that is considered unacceptable while sober. 

Additionally, hypermasculine subcultures, such as those of first responders, encourage alcohol use. Inevitably, using drugs or alcohol in this way leads to addiction in many men. 

Unfortunately, talking about addiction can be tricky in the presence of hypermasculinity. It’s crucial for men and those who care about them to deal with these damaging cultural norms. 

Men suffering from mental health and addiction must be allowed to open up and talk about their trauma, emotional pain, and struggles to move forward and step into a life of wellness.

Four signs a first responder may be suffering from post traumatic stress

Four signs a first responder may be suffering from post traumatic stress

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 30 percent of first responders suffer from a mental health condition, including post-traumatic stress (PTS). 

With the rise in critical incidents against civilians and towards our men and women in uniform, first responders must be able to identify PTS. 

PTS is a response to experiencing a shocking tragedy or a terrifying event accompanied by a physical or emotional reaction. 

There is no absolute time duration for the condition, it could last weeks or years, or it could last forever if it goes untreated. The onset of symptoms could be immediate, but in some people, symptoms don’t develop until weeks or months after the trauma. 

Many people suffering from PTS don’t even know they’re experiencing it, as it can come in intense nightmares, depression, insomnia, and everything in between. 

“Many people, especially first responders, tend to push down their feelings and carry on as usual, even though they may be struggling to process high levels of stress, fear, guilt, and grief. The brain sends out distress signals that create emotional, physical and psychological symptoms that can negatively impact overall health, concentration, and emotional regulation.”

Founder & Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Stephen Odom, First Responder Wellness

When someone is diagnosed with PTS, they typically display symptoms from each category, with many combinations and patterns depending on each individual’s experience.

While the following symptoms may indicate PTS, remember, only a clinical therapist can properly diagnose a patient with PTS. 

Intrusive thoughts

Involuntary, recurrent thoughts regarding the traumatic event you have experienced and a resurgence of related feelings or memories are responsibilities shared by a person suffering from PTS. These intrusive thoughts can lead to vivid dreams or nightmares and even flashbacks.

Hyperarousal and reactivity

Emotions often experienced due to PTS include feeling on edge, irritable, angry or jumpy. Intense emotions, exaggerated startle reactions and physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate can also develop after the traumatic event. 

Avoidance 

Avoiding places, people, activities, and other stimuli that might trigger or act as a reminder of the trauma indicates PTS. Isolation from friends and family, detachment or disassociation, and resistance to seeking help are also common symptoms of the disorder. 

Negative thoughts

Feeling overwhelmed by continuous negative thoughts and distorted feelings related to the traumatic event, which often includes guilt, shame, and self-blame, are also symptoms of PTS. 

Also, it’s imperative to note that almost half of those suffering from PTS are battling substance abuse. As the substance abuse heightens, the PTS symptoms will continue to intensify in many cases. 

If you or a first responder you know may be suffering from PTS, click here to learn more.