COVID-19: Understand and Identify Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress

Responding to disasters can be both rewarding and stressful. Knowing that you have stress and coping with it as you respond will help you stay well, and this will allow you to keep helping those who are affected.

Sources of stress for emergency responders may include witnessing human suffering, risk of personal harm, intense workloads, life-and-death decisions, and separation from family. Stress prevention and management is critical for responders to stay well and to continue to help in the situation. There are important steps responders should take before, during, and after an event. To take care of others, responders must be feeling well and thinking clearly.

Responders will experience stress. Managing stress and taking breaks will make you a better responder.

It is important to remind yourself:

  • It is not selfish to take breaks.
  • The needs of survivors are not more important than your own needs and well-being.
  • Working all of the time does not mean you will make your best contribution.
  • There are other people who can help in the response.

Responders experience stress during a crisis. When stress builds up it can cause:

  • Burnout – feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed.
  • Secondary traumatic stress – stress reactions and symptoms resulting from exposure to another individual’s traumatic experiences, rather than from exposure directly to a traumatic event.

Recognize the signs of both of these conditions in yourself and other responders to be sure those who need a break or need help can address these needs.

Signs Of Burnout

  • Sadness, depression, or apathy
  • Easily frustrated
  • Blaming of others, irritability
  • Lacking feelings, indifferent
  • Isolation or disconnection from others
  • Poor self-care (hygiene)
  • Tired, exhausted or overwhelmed
  • Feeling like:
    • A failure
    • Nothing you can do will help
    • You are not doing your job well
    • You need alcohol/other drugs to cope

Signs of Secondary Traumatic Stress

  • Excessively worry or fear about something bad happening
  • Easily startled, or “on guard” all of the time
  • Physical signs of stress (e.g. racing heart)
  • Nightmares or recurrent thoughts about the traumatic situation
  • The feeling that others’ trauma is yours

Coping techniques like taking breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising, and using the buddy system can help prevent and reduce burnout and secondary traumatic stress.

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Post expires at 9:00am on Wednesday June 10th, 2020