911 dispatchers, or “invisible first responders,” as they’re often called, have very difficult jobs. Day in and day out, they talk people through some of the worst or most frightening moments of their lives. From burglaries to car crashes and worse, 911 dispatchers hear it all, and they have to stay calm throughout the events.

Not surprisingly, this can lead to various stress-related conditions. Some dispatchers develop stress-eating or other unhealthy habits; some find it hard to feel true empathy for loved ones; some even develop PTSD.

For their own health and happiness, as well as to maintain their ability to do their jobs, it’s vital that 911 dispatchers find a way to release job-related stress and leave work at work. This is, of course, easier said than done—but there are effective methods for relieving stress that may work. If one method isn’t working, keep trying alternatives. Surely, there’s something that will work for you.

The first thing to realize is that there are different types of stress, and consequently, different ways to deal with each type. The most important thing to remember is that if your stress is causing problems in your personal and non-working life, you can always seek professional help.

Compassion Stress

Also known as compassion fatigue, this type of stress comes from the natural emotional responses to helping people in difficult times of their lives. It feels good to help others, of course, which is why many dispatchers work in this field; however, when you are talking people through crises for hours, days, months, and years on end, your emotional reserves eventually become so depleted that it becomes very hard to replenish them.

Add to this the fact that 911 dispatchers work 12-hour shifts, and often overtime shifts as well, and you can see how difficult it can be to find the time to replenish those reserves.

One way to start taking better care of yourself and your emotions is a simple one: spend quality, meaningful time with friends and family. That means enjoying conversation, a walk, a bike ride, a trip to a museum—anything that gives you a chance to truly connect with someone you care about.

Critical Incident Stress

This is stress associated with an incident which causes you to have an extremely strong emotional response. And the incident may not be particularly stressful to another dispatcher. What matters is how it affects you, personally. This kind of stress can dissipate quickly if it’s acknowledged and treated, but when it’s ignored, it can build up and cause all kinds of emotional and physical problems.

Although police, fire, and EMS personnel are usually given opportunities to debrief after a major incident, sadly, 911 dispatchers are too often left out of this kind of aid. Some organizations do offer critical incident stress management to dispatchers—if your workplace has a program, take advantage of it. If not, talking to your fellow dispatchers can help defuse some of the intense feelings you’re having.

Cumulative Stress

Just what it sounds like, cumulative stress builds up over time, and emergency personnel are especially prone to developing it. This kind of stress especially can cause long-term issues with one’s personal life and relationships, not to mention health, so it’s very important to do what you can to manage it (including talking to a professional).

Leading a healthy lifestyle is step number one to diffusing cumulative stress. Eat healthy food at regular intervals, and avoid refined sugars, fats, and salty food, which elevate stress levels. Make sure to drink lots of water and try to avoid caffeine.

Regular exercise is also a powerful stress reliever—in fact, it’s so powerful that exercising soon after a stressful incident has been shown to help individuals release that stress more quickly.

Finally, get enough sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, don’t watch TV or do other activities in bed—this can disrupt your sleep cycle and make the problem worse. Instead, keep your bedroom for sleep only, and make sure the room is dark and cool.

While we at KOVA can’t help with the inherently stressful nature of 911 dispatching, we can help make workplace functions less stressful with our public safety software solutions. Contact us if we can help your organization implement a new software system.

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