Major Incidents, Terrorism & Active Shooter, Trauma

Post Tragedy Coping Skills: 10 Important Tips for Developing Resiliency and Coping with Stress

The tragedy that occurred in Las Vegas, as well as the hurricanes that beset Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Puerto Rico have placed tremendous stress on responders in multiple ways.

Responders, by nature proud individuals who often avoid showing their stress and concerns to others, while able to cope with small, periodic tragedies and fatalities, can become overtaxed by the types of incidents we’ve seen occur in the months of August, September and October.

Not only were responders confronted with the multiple challenges of the hurricanes, but more than 400 emergency responders have lost their homes and all of their belongings. They’re now tasked with continuing to work while they rebuild their lives and support their family members along the difficult journey back to some sense of normalcy.

Although Las Vegas responders were well trained and prepared for terrorist attacks, mass casualty incidents and active shooter incidents, on Sunday, October 1, they were confronted with unprecedented wounds, death and danger.

Constant news coverage and discussions don’t allow responders to take their minds too far from their emotions in the aftermath of these incidents. Philip Callahan, PhD, a member of the Alliance on EMS Resiliency has detailed 10 important tips for developing resiliency and coping with stress in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Please read them, and discuss them with your friends, colleagues, managers and, most importantly, your family members.  Watch out for your coworkers as well and let them know you’re available to listen to them and assist them if necessary and if requested.

Tips for Developing Resiliency and Coping with Stress

1. Recognize that, because of the nature of your job, you participate in extreme encounters with tragedies that are not the norm for majority of the population.

2. Recognize that your training has largely been focused on scene safety related to elements that will cause you physical harm. You likely haven’t been trained to protect yourself from psychological harm.

3. Understand that the stressors you experience at an incident may not immediately impact you. The effects of psychological trauma may not show for days, weeks or longer.

4. Be aware of loss of productivity, sleeplessness, burnout, avoidance, fatigue, agitation, depression, thoughts of hopelessness and suicide ideation in yourself and in your associates and seek help if you have trouble getting over any of them.

5. If you haven’t done so, develop a social support system of people you trust and can talk to, such as a work associates, family members and friends. A good social support system is considered one of the best protective factors from the extremes of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and suicide.

6. Practice positive coping skills, such as recognizing that you can’t always change the challenges facing you, but you can change your belief and your attitude about how you face the challenge.

7. Recognize that changing a challenge or changing a belief might not occur immediately. It might require you to set a realistic goal along with steps to meet that goal.

8. Build your physical strength by following a healthy diet and exercise routine while practicing good sleep hygiene and relaxation exercises to reduce stress.

9. Recognize that as you build your social support system, empathy develops by seeking to understand another’s point of view. Trust develops by reaching out and providing mutual support.

10. Continue to develop resilience by building and maintaining a social support system, and continually practicing positive coping skills so that you become adaptable. You have the confidence and understanding to pursue a skillful outcome that best meets your challenge.  You own it.

Alliance on EMS Resiliency 

The Alliance on EMS Resiliency and its many members are working within their organizations and collectively with the Alliance to develop programs to help all responders understand and cope with the stress of our challenging profession and develop safe pathways for proper mental health and resiliency pre- and post-incidents.

Member Organizations