How to Handle the Stress of Being an EMT

By Arthur Hsieh

EMS is a rewarding career. But, before you take the EMT exam, you should be aware of the stresses that are associated with the profession. You have the honor of being present at the beginning of a new life as well as the end of a life. You also experience situations that most people never will. These conditions can bring on emotional stress that can be difficult to deal with.

It’s important to recognize signs of stress that can be harmful to you. These include

  • Being short tempered to coworkers, family, and friends

  • Being unable to concentrate

  • Sleeplessness or excessive sleeping

  • Loss of appetite, interest at work, or interest in relationships

  • Increased use of alcohol or recreational drugs

  • Feelings of hopelessness, constant anxiety, sadness, or guilt

Dealing with stress is different for everyone. Some find comfort in discussing their feelings with people they trust. Others exercise. Adjusting your work schedule or taking time off work can help reset your outlook on life. Whatever you do, make sure it’s a positive and healthy way to cope with stress.

Many EMS organizations provide assistance to their employees who may be under a great deal of stress after a serious event like a pediatric cardiac arrest or multiple-casualty event involving many deaths. This assistance may include critical incident stress management, or CISM. CISM may include a situational defusing, which occurs immediately after the event is over.

It gives supervisors an opportunity to check in with employees to see how they’re managing any stress or emotions. If the event is significant, there may be a critical incident stress debriefing (CISD), which usually occurs 24 hours after the event. There may be follow-up with mental health professionals in case the employee experiences post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Stress while working can be especially dangerous. You may create a situation where your feelings provoke or worsen a confrontation. Don’t overreact to what the patient says or does! Take a deep breath and be sure not to take things personally. The patient doesn’t know you, and you won’t be going home with him, so why get angry over what is said?