Most emergency responders need to be fit to do their roles and take regular exercise. This is great because exercise is a good stress buster.
However, if you’re really stressed, beware of high adrenalin exercise. That extra burst of adrenalin from hurtling down a slope on your mountain bike can overload your system, causing your heart to race and leaving you feeling panicky.
If you feel that you need to wind down, some gentler exercise will be more effective. Try going for a walk or a swim.
Learn to relax
Being an emergency responder often involves lots of adrenalin which helps you act quickly and stay focussed. You will have your own ways of winding down – gardening, listening to music, washing the car, spending time in nature, watching a film, walking your dog, etc.
Learning how to switch off and let go of physical tension in our bodies helps us feel better and think more clearly. Relaxing takes practice. Don’t treat it as another task to be completed - try to think of it as giving yourself some time and space. You can use relaxation techniques regularly, or every once in a while.
Focus on your breathing
Slowing your breathing down can make you feel a lot calmer and increase your sense of wellbeing.
Relaxing your body
This gentle relaxation exercise starts with your toes and moves up your body to slowly calm you all over.
Audio relaxation exercises
You can play below audio of 2 exercises, firstly Mindful Breathing, and then Progressive Muscular Relaxation...
Talk to friends, family and colleagues
Social support is super important in helping us stay well and happy. In your responder role, you’ll sometimes be involved in risky or distressing events. Who do you talk to about these?
Some of you will talk to you family and friends, but others will want to protect them from the nitty gritty of what you do.
There’s no right or wrong but it’s a good idea to have a think about who you’d talk to if something was troubling you.
Most of you find it helpful to talk to your fellow responders. Strong bonds develop when you train and work together and these relationships are huge source of mutual support.
Adrenalized activity and night work can interfere with your sleep. Even mild sleep problems can affect your wellbeing and quality of life. If you’re having problems getting a good night’s sleep trying some of these tips may help:
Make your bedroom a calm space
During the day
Night time worrying
You can find more information on improving your sleep here.
Sleepio is an online programme to improve your sleep available for free to responders (and health and social care staff) in Scotland.
You can also get help from Sleep Scotland - email for more details.
Watch out for alcohol and drugs
Having a dram or a glass of wine is what lots of us do to relax. And what we do when spending time with friends.
But drinking to escape or forget problems can make things worse. In addition to the well known health risks of drinking too much, alcohol is a depressant and stops our brain’s natural processing.
Watch out if you need alcohol or drugs to get to sleep, or if your intake increases.
If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking you can find information about getting help here.
If you have worries about your own or someone else’s drug use you can find information about getting help here.
Look out for warning signs
These may be signs that you’ve been injured as a responder:
Vivid memories of traumatic experiences can pop into your mind in the days and weeks following an event. You’re not going crazy, your brain is simply trying to digest or process this experience so it can be filed away with your other memories.
What you can do: You need to help your brain process the experience. Try talk talking to someone or writing about it.
Feeling on edge or anxious
During an event our heart rate increases, our muscles tense and we breathe more quickly, helping as act effectively. But traumatic experiences can fix this internal alarm system on red alert, and the physical reactions continue when they’re no longer needed. This can make you feel jumpy, irritable and anxious.
What you can do: Use exercise and relaxation (see sections above) to help your nervous system settle back to normal. If the anxiety is interfering with your life then you should seek further help.
Being more irritable than usual
With your alarm system stuck on red alert you are primed to respond to a threat, which means you’re on a much shorter fuse than usual. Irritability (and its impact on your loved ones) is a warning sign that many responders notice first.
What you can do: Try using exercise or relaxation to help your nervous system settle back to normal.
Worrying for the safety of family and friends
This is a common warning sign for emergency responders. You know from experience that bad things happen every ordinary day. You may have had job recently which has affected you deeply. Perhaps you identified personally with the people involved in a traumatic accident. You may therefore feel anxiety or dread when family are out without you, or you might be preoccupied with the idea that something is going to happen to them.
What you can do: Be kind to yourself. Try talking to a more experienced colleague about how they got used to this. Or try talking to someone else you trust. Sometimes just acknowledging there’s a problem and sharing it with someone who cares about you will be enough to dispel some of the dread. If the worries don’t settle down, then it’s a sign that you would benefit from some further help.
We all feel sad and miserable from time to time. Sometimes this is linked to difficult life events (e.g. bereavement, divorce, unemployment) or to periods of stress. Usually, these feelings pass in due course. But if the feelings don’t go away after a few weeks or if they’re interfering with your life, it could be a sign that you’re depressed. Mild depression makes everything harder to do and life seem less worthwhile. Severe depression can interrupt everyday life and cause feelings of despair and hopelessness.
What you can do: It’s important to stay connected to friends and family and to be kind to yourself. Do things you enjoy and take some exercise. Depression has nothing to do with psychological weakness and instead is more common among people who push themselves hard and have high expectations of themselves. If you’ve been feeling low for a while and aren’t able to pick your mood up, then it’s a sign you need some further help.
Check your resilience
Stress is part of everyday life and can be beneficial. But high levels over a long period can be seriously bad for our health. Our resilience varies over time depending on the demands we face and the resources available to us. You can use this resilience check-in tool here to see how you’re doing
Stress is part of everyday life and some pressure can be beneficial to us. But high levels over a long period can deplete our resilience.
If you feel like you’re just about coping please have a look at the tips on this page or join us on the Staying Well Road Trip and online course for responders which is packed with information on how to manage stress and stay well.
You can also find suggestions on where to get extra support on the Need Help page.