Heart-Healthy Tips: Managing and Preventing Stress for Emergency and Disaster Response Workers

Tuesday, 03 August 2010

Disasters take many forms and demand quick response from emergency workers. Some disasters are natural, such as earthquakes or hurricanes, while others are manmade, such as technological failures or terrorist attacks. As a member of an emergency response department, you and your team members are at risk of experiencing what psychologists refer to as a traumatic incident - an incident that may involve exposure to catastrophic events, severely injured children or adults, dead bodies or body parts, or the loss of colleagues, for instance. These tips from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Mental Health Information Center describe the reactions you might have after a disaster, signs that you may need help, and stress management ideas. For more information, visit http://emergency.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/info_responders.asp.

Normal Reactions to a Disaster Event
  • No one who responds to a mass casualty event is untouched by it.
  • Profound sadness, grief, and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event.
  • You may not want to leave the scene until the work is finished.
  • You will likely try to override stress and fatigue with dedication and commitment.
  • You may deny the need for rest and recovery time.
Signs That You May Need Stress Management Assistance
  • Difficulty communicating thoughts
  • Difficulty remembering instructions
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Uncharacteristically argumentative
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Limited attention span
  • Unnecessary risk-taking
  • Tremors/headaches/nausea
  • Tunnel vision/muffled hearing
  • Colds or flu-like symptoms
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of objectivity
  • Easily frustrated
  • Unable to engage in problem-solving
  • Unable to let down when off duty
  • Refusal to follow orders
  • Refusal to leave the scene
  • Increased use of drugs/alcohol
  • Unusual clumsiness
Ways to Help Manage Your Stress
  • Limit on-duty work hours to no more than 12 hours per day.
  • Make work rotations from high stress to lower stress functions.
  • Make work rotations from the scene to routine assignments, as practical.
  • Use counseling assistance programs available through your agency.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat healthy snacks like fresh fruit and whole grain breads and other energy foods at the scene.
  • Take frequent, brief breaks from the scene as practical.
  • Talk about your emotions to process what you have seen and done.
  • Stay in touch with your family and friends.
  • Participate in memorials, rituals, and use of symbols as a way to express feelings.
  • Pair up with a responder so that you may monitor one another's stress.



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