There are many good practices that help to support overall wellness, in order to maintain strong mental and physical health throughout your career as a paramedic. By establishing these habits early, they may contribute to your resilience, or the capacity to recover from difficult circumstances. By focusing on good practices for physical, mental and emotional health, an overall sense of wellness and strength in your work can be achieved and maintained.
Resilience and Prevention
- Identify your support system early.
Friends, family members, close colleagues/coworkers, clergy – early identification of your support system will ensure you know who to talk to when you need it.
- Proper nutrition.
While it may be easy to grab takeout while on the road, and tempting on those long night shifts, considering healthy alternatives and ensuring nutritious snack options are available will do your body (and mind) far better in the long run.
- Regular exercise/physical activity.
Maintaining physical strength not only ensures you are best prepared for your work as a paramedic, but allows for a natural and healthy venting process after long days and stressful calls.
- Resilience training.
PAM offers a resilience course called Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) for members; taught by paramedics, for paramedics. More information about the R2MR program is available here.
Whichever way you prefer, practice spending some quiet time to reflect and decompress. Maybe it’s enjoying nature on a hike? Or a hot yoga class? Maybe it’s attending a religious service or belonging to a spiritual group. Many yoga studios/gyms etc. offer special rates for emergency services workers – check out the ones local to you for more information.
- Practice work-life balance.
It might be easy to pick up all the extra shifts for a bit of extra cash, or feel compelled to work beyond your regular hours, when you enjoy your work. It is also easy to become overworked and to let the LIFE part slide a bit. Work-life balance is unique for everyone; it is important to recognize when one might be suffering because of our attention to the other.
- Regular check ins with a mental health professional, counselor or therapist.
Consider it “a checkup from the neck up”. Much like we see our family doctor to maintain physical health, consider establishing a relationship early with a mental health professional, counselor, therapist, psychologist, etc. These professionals should be able to provide baseline mental health assessments, discuss personalized wellness solutions, and to provide mental health support in times of crisis.
- Maintain relationships and interests outside of work.
It is easy as shift workers to find ourselves only socializing with those who you work with; scheduling is easier, there is no shortage of work-talk to go around… but while work relationships are important, it is equally important to maintain relationships and interests outside of work. Read books and literature that is not work-related; find hobbies; make an effort to schedule time with non-work friends and family.
- Be self-aware; make self-care a priority.
This can’t be stressed enough. When you allow yourself to make self-care a priority, and to really be aware of yourself (both physically and mentally), you will recognize sooner when something is not right, or when you need to take time to focus on looking after yourself.
- Hydrate and eat nutritiously throughout the night shift
- Limit caffeine in later part of your night shift
- Try to limit sunlight exposure on way home in morning
- Black-out curtains/blinds will aid in sleep
- Use earplugs
- Avoid alcohol/sleeping pills to help sleep
- Be realistic: allow yourself time for full sleep (before and/or after shift)
- Communicate needs with your family
Stress Management Tips
- Remember healthy lifestyle (sleep, diet, exercise)
- Focus on task at hand
- Controlled breathing
- Nurture a support system
- Recognize limits/take breaks
- Talk/ask for help
- Tune into own signs of distress (be self-aware)
- Make self-care a priority
- Access early intervention
- Maintain social contact
- Follow care recommendations provided by physicians/mental health professionals/counselors etc.
The Canadian Institue for Public Safety Research and Treatment has developed a list of anonymous screening tools to help identify symptoms of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Using these anonymous screening tools lets you compare your responses to previously published responses from the general population or other public safety personnel. Your results can help inform whether you should consider speaking with a health care professional to get additional assistance.
The tools are intended to educate and are not designed to provide a clinical diagnosis. Responses are not being recorded and there is no person monitoring the screening tools to provide support.
You can access the CIPSRT screening tools here.