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To First Reponders: Take Care of Yourself During These Times



Here are tips to keep in mind to keep yourself feeling well and thinking clearly

first responders, COVID, safety, health, wellness

The Hudson Valley is home to many first responders: EMT’s, fire personnel, police officers, health care workers, social workers, and others. The list includes those who are the front lines during a health crisis, or when local protests over events in our world escalate into violence.  The CDC offers tips for those who witness human suffering, or put themselves into risky situations, work longer hours, and make life and death decisions every day.
 
“There are important steps responders should take before, during, and after an event,” says the CDC website.
Preparing for a Response:
  • Try to learn as much as possible about what your role would be in a response.
  • If you will be traveling or working long hours during a response, explain this to loved ones who may want to contact you. Come up with ways you may be able to communicate with them. Keep your expectations realistic, and take the pressure off yourself.
  • Talk to your supervisor and establish a plan for who will fill any urgent ongoing work duties unrelated to the disaster while you are engaged in the response.
During a Response: Understand and Identify Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress

Limit your time working alone by trying to work in teams.

Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up it can cause:
  • Burnout – feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed
  • Secondary traumatic stress – stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.
Coping techniques like taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress. Recognize the signs of both conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs.

Signs Of Burnout:
  • Sadness, depression, or apathy
  • Easily frustrated
  • Blaming of others, irritability
  • Lacking feelings, indifferent
  • Isolation or disconnection from others
  • Poor self-care (hygiene)
  • Tired, exhausted, or overwhelmed
  • Feeling like:
        o  A failure
        o  Nothing you can do will help
        o  You are not doing your job well
        o  You need alcohol/other drugs to cope
Signs of Secondary Traumatic Stress
  • Excessively worry or fear about something bad happening
  • Easily startled, or “on guard” all of the time
  • Physical signs of stress (e.g. racing heart)
  • Nightmares or recurrent thoughts about the traumatic situation
  • The feeling that others’ trauma is yours
Responder Self-Care Techniques
  • Limit working hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts.
  • Work in teams and limit amount of time working alone.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Talk to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences.
  • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate sleep and exercise.
  • Know that it is okay to draw boundaries and say “no.”
  • Avoid or limit caffeine and use of alcohol.

It is important to remind yourself:
  • It is not selfish to take breaks.
  • The needs of survivors are not more important than your own needs and well-being.
  • Working all of the time does not mean you will make your best contribution.
  • There are other people who can help in the response.
Responding to disasters can be both rewarding and stressful. Knowing that you have stress and coping with it as you respond will help you stay well, and this will allow you to keep helping those who are affected.



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