COVID-19, Its Psychological Effects on First Responders, and How to Cope

Published on January 10, 2021 by First Responder Wellness

With the new year comes new hope. However, many people are still dealing with the lasting psychological effects of the pandemic. Various mental health issues can affect the first responder community due to the overwhelming amount of stress accompanying the intensity of their work. Some of these issues may include post-traumatic stress (PTS), depression, sleep disorders, substance abuse, and more. While understanding these already existing concerns for first responders, how is the COVID-19 crisis amplifying those concerns, and how can first responders cope? 

Contact Precautions

The severity of how COVID-19 is amplifying health concerns largely depends on individual circumstances, location, and other factors. However, one major amplified stressor may arise from extensive contact precautions. First responders are on the front lines helping those in need and are often in close contact with many people in the community. Since the pandemic began, organizations such as the CDC have implemented guidelines to protect both the emergency personnel and the general population. These added safety and health concerns on top of existing job stressors can create another layer of hyper-awareness and vigilance that may cause higher anxiety levels. 

For many, COVID-19 has significantly changed day-to-day job responsibilities with the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and contact precautions. Now, not only do first responders have to worry about normal job risks, but they are also faced with the risk of catching the virus. Wearing masks and gloves and having to sanitize equipment after every call may prove tiresome and tedious after repeated calls, especially at the end of a shift. The overall cumulative psychological effects, day in and day out, may cause mental health issues. 


Since first responders are on the front line, there may be heightened anxiety and fear of catching the virus and potentially passing it onto family members. First responders may know the risk that they have signed up for; however, there may be worry that this risk now extends to their family. Because of this, some may be extra cautious around family members and may make daily life at home more difficult, leading to little time to decompress even when they are home. Additionally, being repeatedly exposed to distressing events, dealing with many harrowing scenes due to COVID-19, and not having adequate time to process these things, can contribute to burnout.  

How to Cope With the Stress

It is essential to recognize what symptoms of stress you may be experiencing. These may include:

  • Feeling helpless or powerless
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling nervous or anxious
  • Feeling irritated, angry, or in denial
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling overwhelmed, tired, or burned out
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling sad or depressed

Experiencing traumatic and stressful events during the COVID-19 pandemic impacts everyone differently. In some cases, some people may be able to successfully manage or reduce adverse mental health outcomes, while others may experience significant distress, such as developing PTS.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some tips on how first responders can cope with the psychological effects of COVID-19 include:

  • Communicate with coworkers, employees, and supervisors about job stress. This may include talking openly about how the pandemic is affecting your work, identifying factors that cause stress and finding solutions, and asking about mental health resources in your workplace.
  • Remind yourself that everyone is facing unusual circumstances. This is not something that you are facing alone. 
  • Identify and accept that there will be certain things you do not have control over. Being able to let certain things go that you do not have control over may reduce the weight on your shoulders.
  • Remember that you are playing a crucial role in helping fight this pandemic. You are also doing the best you can with what resources you have available.
  • Remember the things you do have control over and keep a consistent routine when possible. Try to stay as much in sync with your routine as before the pandemic by getting adequate sleep, and making time for healthy meals. Also take breaks for downtime, rest, and check-in with family members and friends. 
  • Spend time outdoors being physically active when you can, and enjoy your hobbies. 
  • Take breaks from reading and watching the news. Constantly hearing about the pandemic can be exhausting, and it is important to remember to take periodical breaks.
  • Engage in mindfulness. This may include meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.

It is vital to recognize any of these symptoms that you or a loved one may be feeling as a first responder during this pandemic. With the new year comes new hope and opportunities for better mental health and wellness. 

At First Responder Wellness, we recognize the intense battle our first responders face every day on the front lines. Not only is the day-to-day job fraught with stressors, but COVID-19 has also proven to be another adversary that may cause mental health issues or make them worse. Now more than ever, and with the new year, it is critical to recognize and prioritize mental health and substance abuse concerns by taking steps to get better. It is essential to reach out and communicate with others and understand you are not alone in this. It can be easy to overlook how stress may be affecting you during the pandemic. Left unmanaged, these concerns can lead to alcohol or substance use disorders. First Responder Wellness is here to help you on your path to recovery and better well-being. Call us today at (888) 743-0490.