Avoiding Burnout as a First Responder

Manhattan 2019. Behind the police with gun belt

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

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