8 ways to cope with the stress of EMS work

Finding ways to deal with the stress of emergency work can be highly subjective; here are eight things you can do to decrease your stress levels.

Working in EMS can be mentally exhausting. Finding ways to cope with stress can be highly subjective. We asked EMS1’s readers their tips for dealing with the stress of emergency work. Here are some of the best answers and add what works for you in the comments:

1. Talk it out
“Everyone tells you “you must have friends outside of ems” but I have found my coworkers are now my best friends. We are a different kind of creature, us EMS folk; we are some of the most sporadic, hilarious and fun loving people alive and it’s a side we rarely get to see while on duty. To relieve work stress we all go out often for karaoke, pool and drinks. We even have been on vacations together. I think it’s important to see our biggest stress relievers are sometimes there when the stress is being produced. After all who else is going to appreciate the “inside jokes” we use to conceal our heartache after a bad call.” — Raimey Davis 

“Having friends in similar jobs helps. I had friends who were nurses, firefighters, police and other EMTs. I couldn’t talk to others because they couldn’t handle the details or even try to understand. It sounds cruel but we joked a lot about our experiences.” Brian Fox 

When depression or PTSD sets in, peer support is the lifeline that never fails

“Recognize the symptoms and have a great support team. Whether it is co-workers or your spouse, you need a support team to know and understand what you are going through.” — Jana Richardson Montgomery

2. Live a balanced life
“Workout frequently, have a social life outside of work, have a few drinks to relax without getting annihilated every time, and any personal hobbies like hunting, fishing or whatever works. I will say that having friends that are not in the field helps but it’s hard for them to understand the stresses of the job, so hanging out with co-workers or others in the field outside of work is good too.” — Josh Smith 

“As much as we feel the “need” to work, it has been my experience that management will eat their young (field employees). Never work to the point of physical, psychological or emotional breaking point. Force management to hire enough people to keep you safe. Management is responsible for the system you work in. If there are inadequate resources (field staff) that is management’s problem. Recreation is founded in the roots of re-creating one’s self. Find something outside of EMS to help decompress.” — David Swarner

“Live within “straight time.” If you must work overtime in order to stay afloat then you’re living like a hamster in a wheel. Getting off the wheel doesn’t happen in a minute but you can get free if you commit to it. Here are two pictures that could possibly be your future: A. 10 years from now you’re burnt out and stuck in a profession that you can’t afford to leave. It sucks to be your partner. B. 10 years from now with a balanced life, you’re enjoying this very same, rewarding profession but it’s much more fun when you’re free to enjoy it rather than being trapped. You get to focus on your patients and your teammates so they’re happier too. Your choice.” — Randy Hilton

3. Sweat it out
“1.Separate yourself from work as soon as you punch out of work. 2.Work it and not be a lazy couch potato on your days off. 3.Meditate 4. Take a trip into nature whether it’s a walk in your local trails and nature reserve or out to the real back country. 5. Do arts and crafts. 6. Do some exciting new things that take you it of your comfort zone.” — Rikki Archemedis Rebello

“Hit the gym after a stressful day. Sweat It out.” — Thela Cordero

4. Don’t be afraid to seek help
“Don’t be afraid to find a good counselor or therapist to talk things through with. We learn how to compartmentalize very well in this job, but we need to remember to clean out those compartments every so often.” — Polly McCaul

“Professional Stress Management MUST become and remain an ongoing process in both your professional and personal life.” — Thomas Landers

“First and foremost, take care of yourself and those around you. We are far from above reactions to the insanely challenging scenes we are thrust into day in and day out. There is ABSOLUTELY no shame in reaching out for help even long before things get too tough to cope with on your own. Talk to each other, look out for each other, take care of one another as though they are your own. And don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions if you are concerned about a coworker! That concern may make the difference in someone who’s on the fence of making one of those decisions none of us want to see made.” — Scott Gay

5. Have a laugh
“I have a morbid sense of humor. That always helps me.” — Jonatan Cuevas

“Having a sense of humor, but also enjoying the good calls. Never be embarrassed to laugh at yourself when you do make a mistake (as long as it’s not a deadly one). Don’t be so hard on yourself. Recognize when you have had enough or too much and take a break and talk it out.” — Melissa Morrison

6. Relax
“Knitting!” — Laura Schappert

“Take a day. Focus on your goals outside of EMS.” — Jason Kinneen

7. Lead a healthy life
“Recognize the stress and what it is doing to your body. Each person is different and has different ways of dealing. For me, I have found exercising and eating healthier has been a big plus. I have also found those that understand me and understand the world I work in and they are my sounding board. Being surrounded by family and friends even if it is a brief time has helped greatly.” — Marcy Wolf

8. Keep a journal
“I found that having a journal and writing it down can really help because the thoughts kind of lose their power after that. Plus understand that you won’t save everybody. It’s an unfortunate truth about this job because you want to save everyone.” — Sean Novak