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How to Recognize and Handle Stress

Knowing about stress, how to recognize it and what to do about it is an important safety issue. The nearly universal signs of being over-stressed include:

  • Persistent fatigue: When you don't feel refreshed even after many hours of sleep.
  • Negativity and cynicism: Worsens where it already exists and starts where it didn't exist before.
  • Diminished job motivation: If an activity starts to hurt, it's natural to become less motivated to do it.

There are other signs and symptoms as well. Physically, stress can promote general muscular tension, headache and a stiff neck, pain between your shoulder blades or in your lower back, respiratory illness and gastrointestinal upset. You may feel like a "coiled spring" or find yourself clenching your jaws or fist. Emotionally, you may feel overwhelmed, helpless or hopeless, isolated or relentlessly pressured. After a while, it may feel as if everyone is making demands for your help. You may also cry easily, sleep and eat too much or too little, become irritable or begin to overuse alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or other "comforting" substances.



Action Steps

What do you do if you experience these symptoms? Basically, there are three ways to attack stress:

  1. Change or eliminate things that stress you;
  2. Change your attitude toward them; and
  3. Minimize your physical/emotional response by using various stress-management techniques.

Here are a few suggestions for the third option:

  • Exercise: Among the many benefits are improved fitness and a general sense of well-being and self-control.
  • Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation or Yoga: Local adult education programs may offer training in some of these methods.
  • Learn Deep Breathing: This is done with the diaphragm, not the upper chest, and is inherent to many martial arts, yoga and meditation.
  • Take Time Off: Take a break. Take a vacation. Take a few days off -- maybe just less overtime.
  • Expand Your Social Circle: Find non-EMS/emergency friends who may not be interested in talking "shop."
  • Rekindle an Old Hobby: Renew old hobbies or start a new one.
  • Unwind Appropriately: Don't go right home and to sleep after a call or shift. Try exercising a few hours before sleeping and avoid heavy meals before bedtime.

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