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Feeling Emotionally Drained? Here’s What You Can Do.

Published on December 29, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

When we are entirely focused on an important task at hand, in order to get it done effectively and efficiently, there is often little room for addressing our emotions. At the scene of an accident, first responders are expected to push aside their feelings immediately and provide both physical and emotional support to those in need. At the end of the day, they are then expected to leave their job’s emotional weight at the scene of the emergency and go home to be with their family. It is not until after all of this that they have room to process their emotions, and by then, they may be too exhausted. Having to continually manage these intense feelings alongside their work and home life can lead to feeling emotionally drained, leading to burnout. 

Why is this so common among first responders?

With long work hours resulting in a lack of sleep, a demanding pace, and emotionally intense situations, this can place first responders at higher risk for emotional exhaustion and job burnout. Burnout is a reaction to chronic stress and can be characterized by physical, mental, and emotional fatigue, and depersonalization. 

Though each individual processes their emotions differently, first responders have a unique and challenging job that requires a lot from them emotionally, with little room to express or cope with them. Some of this is associated with the stigma and culture around being tough and where little to no emotion should be expressed. This can often make it difficult for one to recognize or cope with mental health or substance abuse issues, which causes them to suffer in silence. Continually avoiding emotions can cause them to build up to a point where every little thing may set you off or feel like it is too much of a burden. This industry-wide stigma that feeling your emotions or seeking help is a sign of weakness often inhibits people from obtaining physical and mental health assistance they may need to process emotions and fight burnout effectively. 

Signs you may be feeling emotionally drained.

Emotional exhaustion results from accumulated stress that leaves an individual feeling worn-out and drained. Every person may experience emotional exhaustion differently, but the symptoms present themselves both mentally and physically. These include:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Apathy
  • Irritability
  • Absentmindedness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Physical fatigue
  • Increased cynicism or pessimism 
  • Headaches
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Sense of dread
  • Depression

This may lead to burnout if you find:

  • Every day seems like a bad day
  • Caring about work seems like a waste of energy
  • It feels impossible to find a healthy work-life balance
  • You’re continuously struggling with physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion

What to do about it.

There are many things that you can do to help mitigate emotional exhaustion, potentially leading to burnout. Some practical things to keep in mind to help maintain your mental health are:

  • Don’t let things stack up emotionally- when we let things pile up heavily on our shoulders, that can be a heavy burden to bear. By dealing with each emotion that arises individually, it can lessen the load.
  • Don’t fool yourself by pretending the job won’t follow you home- Although you may be out of the immediate stressful environment, your mind may often wander back to the events of the day. Allowing yourself time to process this information is essential.
  • Hiding your humanity is not healthy- Pretending things don’t bother you will only lead to suppressed emotions that may cause a big explosion rather than a controlled release. 
  • Connect with your coworkers- Talking with people who may share similar experiences as you may help you feel less isolated in how you may be feeling

Pushing back against the feeling of being emotionally drained requires you to think about how you would approach anything else if it were running on empty such as a gas tank. This would require you to:

  • Figure out what is the source of the emotional drain and reduce it. These circumstances, situations, tasks, or people can all be sources of depletion. Limiting your exposure to them can help reduce feeling exhausted. As a first responder, this may be hard to do since your profession may be the source. Maybe it is time to take a break, a vacation, or lessen up on taking those extra shifts. 
  • Learn to conserve your emotional energy- This means operating with greater emotional efficiency by identifying what you are feeling, regulating them, and giving yourself space and time to process them.
  • Replenish your emotional fuel. This may look different for everyone, but healthy ways to replenish yourself and your emotions may be practicing self-care and giving back to yourself every once in a while.    

Being repeatedly exposed to emotionally taxing events can quickly cause one to feel drained if not adequately managed. Feeling emotionally depleted can be common among first responders who tirelessly help those in distress. It can seem like there is little room for them to show or process their own emotions. Sometimes the stigma of showing emotions as a sign of weakness can be difficult to navigate around, and as a result, many feel discouraged to seek help. This can eventually lead to burnout, leaving an individual questioning why they even got into this line of profession. However, many emergency service leaders are working to change this stigma and provide resources for better communication and help. If these symptoms of emotional exhaustion or burnout feel familiar to you, reach out to us at First Responders Wellness, where we are working towards changing the stigma by providing resources for first responders. Call (888) 743-0490.