By Ottilie Beardsley, NYS EMT-B
Training and Risk Management Administrator
Ambulance Services Insurance Program
Stress is a fact of everyday life in Emergency Services. What is stress exactly? The Oxford English Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” On the job, we experience all kinds of stress from all kinds of sources— the physical stress of maneuvering heavy equipment or moving a patient up or down stairs on a July day, the mental stress of coordinating medical resources at a multi-patient MVA, or the emotional stress of explaining to your family why you have to miss movie night again. Even after we resolve the issue that is causing us stress, those feelings of anxiety and pressure can remain. Stress can greatly impact our overall health. Chronic stress, combined with a lack of coping mechanisms, can lead to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, coronary disease, and a host of other disorders. Too much stress can cripple us. So what can we do to make ourselves hardy against stress? How can we prepare ourselves to adapt to the high levels of stress that come with Emergency Services?
Prevention through healthy living is a key component in fighting stress. The better you treat your body, the better it will be able to respond to external stressors that threaten your physical, mental, and emotional balance. Part of treating your body right is treating it to the right foods. Too often when we’re on the job we’re looking for a quick meal, and we’re off to the local fast food joint for their latest deal in high fat, high calorie foods that offer perilously little nutrition. Not only do these foods lack the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function, they actually worsen our stress levels by contributing to rising blood pressure, rising body weight, and decreasing energy levels. Just as it is important for you to maintain your knowledge and skills as an EMT, it is important for you to maintain your knowledge of nutrition so you can utilize your skills most effectively.
Equally important in the fight against stress is maintaining a suitable level of physical fitness. Keeping physically fit not only makes it easier for you to perform the manual labor your job requires by building strength, improving endurance, and increasing the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, it also improves your quality of sleep, decreases sensitivity to temperature, noise, and pain, and improves your performance under stress. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars at the gym to get in shape—practicing good body mechanics while lifting pieces of equipment you use on a regular basis has the dual benefit of exercising your body and exercising your skills. Fitness programs can also act as relaxa-tion techniques to help you gain control over your stress response. According to the National Fire Protection Association, martial arts, yoga, and dance all help to improve not only your physical fitness but your focus, breath control, and body/mind integration.