EMS Workers Need Support to Deal with Chronic Stress: Here’s How

posted in Mental Health, Recovery


Being an EMT is high-stress, high-performance with on-the-go challenges. Mandated training helps EMTs work through life or death decisions but they are not always good at helping train them to cope with chronic stress. When an EMT shows up to help a person, they often are in a life or death scenario and need immediate help. Their lives depend on the EMT doing their job well. The hours are long, with shifts going day and night. Training is around essential life-saving instructions but they often are not taught best practices in self-care. Find out more about how EMT workers can get support to deal with chronic stress and how to support a loved one who needs help.

Stress Challenges

A career as an EMT is a choice many make, not because of pay, but because they love helping others. They love the mixture of what they experience on the job and enjoy helping others in a time of need. EMTs are exposed to trauma, violence, and death nearly every shift they work. To deal with work-related stress, schedules, and relationship stress, they turn to other things to cope. On-the-job stress can be hard on their bodies, minds, and spirits. Sometimes they turn to substances, other times they turn inward, choosing to shut down when away from work. The effects of stress on their lives compounds over time and does not quit, even after the emergency is over. Some of the ways the body experiences stress for an EMT includes:

  • Adrenaline phase when the body kicks into overdrive and puts them on high alert
  • Resistance phase where the body adapts to the stress but drains the body’s reserves of energy
  • Exhaustion: body runs out of energy, which makes it difficult to think and function which makes it difficult to think and function when the person is not getting enough sleep or not sleeping well when they are resting

These phases happen in everyone’s lives no matter what stressor they experience. For EMTs, they experience this almost daily, non-stop, chronic stress in their lives. This complicates things in a way nothing else does. It makes it hard to imagine how to navigate people’s journeys to healing while still working in this profession.

On-the-Job Tips

There is no way for EMTs to side-step the effects of on-the-job stress. There are ‘negative’ people who bring stress to the job or at work, but overall, the stress people feel comes from what they witness on the job. A positive workspace is crucial for staying in this line of work for the long haul. Keeping a positive attitude helps alleviate a lot of stress. When stress is bad, it helps to also take a break for a while. EMTs don’t get paid a lot or get time off frequently, but it is a good idea to ask for vacation time. A short break of a couple of days after stressful shifts can bring some light back to the situation. A mental health break, as it is called, also helps alleviate the stress of the scenario. Plan for relaxation, going to a quieter place and getting out of the hustle and bustle of life. Ultimate relaxation is getting away from work to decompress. If it seems stress continues to build while on vacation, it may be helpful to speak to someone about it.

Coping with Stress

EMT workers and managers can work together to get support for their challenges at work. EMTs need to work together in a way that recognizes forms of stress in and out of the stationhouse. Positive, affirming cultures at work help, but it is not everything. Left unaddressed, stress from the constant crisis mode can result in mental and physical health ailments. It may also lead to a substance use disorder. This can derail their career, or take over their lives, and create more stress. On top of that, their bodies and brains are not fully functioning as they should. When the effects of stress are felt, they must be willing to take steps to calm it down. A person must be able to reach out and access resources to find healing in recovery if they struggle with addiction. 


Finding resources to get help is important. To feel support means an EMT knows they are not alone. To not feel alone is one of the biggest factors in coping with stress, dealing with substance use disorder, or seeking help for mental health challenges. Not every EMT is going to struggle the same as the next with these issues but chronic stress tells us that, over time, an accumulation of witnessing and experiencing these stressful scenarios can lead to big challenges for an individual who just wants to feel healthy. Although they can never ‘unsee’ what they witness, they can learn to cope with it better. With the right resources and support, they can learn how to deal with stressors, cope with mental health issues, and find help for addiction. Stigma still surrounds seeking help for EMTs, but the doors are more open now than they used to be for them to seek help by professionals who understand their line of work and what they need to heal. A place of healing will support their journey of recovery and continue to help them navigate an individual pathway forward. Once they realize they are not alone and others struggle too, it makes it easier to ask for help.

Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We help you reimagine what is possible and create the life you’ve been dreaming of.

Call us today: 1-888-224-7312