As a First Responder you are a unique individual that may experience symptoms related to impact event exposure within the workplace. You may be experiencing some or all of these symptoms. Click on a card below to learn why they occur along with some tools to help manage or minimize the effects.
Constantly scanning your environment and being hyperaware of your surroundings is known as hypervigilance. Your internal alarm system is always on high alert due to learned responses imprinting on your nervous system to always scan for danger or threats. Long term exposure to these events can result in changes within the brain structure and chemistry.
Tools to try: Prolonged exposure; Grounding; Mindfulness; Peaceful Place
We process events and information during our sleeping hours. This can include distressing events. If you wake up with your heart racing and in a sweat, but cannot recall the dream, it is likely you were having a nightmare and your body is in a state of stress as a result. This can develop into other issues like dread of sleep, further disrupting your natural sleep cycle.
Tools to try: Sleep hygiene; Lucid dreaming; Box breathing; Progressive muscle relaxation; Tapping
As a first responder you witness more negative events than most. This can affect your thought patterns and result in distorted thinking towards the world around you and/or yourself. Some examples of this type of thinking includes catastrophizing, black & white thinking, shame, and guilt.
Tools to try: Thought reframing
As a first responder you are required to be on alert most of the time. It is similar to being hooked up to an IV bag of adrenaline and other stress hormones. The bag is set to keep a constant drip of these hormones flowing into your body so you are primed to respond at any moment. The problem is, if the tones don't go off, these stress hormones stay in your system and become toxic, leading to agitation and possible aggression.
Tools to try: Physical exercise; Journaling; Meditation (explicit)
You live in your war zone. This means you are constantly switching between on and off duty in the same environments. Intrusive memories and/or thoughts can come out of nowhere as a result of various stimuli (aka triggers), but you are aware of time and know it is just a memory.
Tools to try: Just notice; Beachball metaphor; Change perspective
Similar to intrusive memories, flashbacks can be triggered by a variety of stimuli, internally (body sensations) or externally (physical reminders). The main difference between a flashback and intrusive memory is that a flashback involves a dissociative state. This means your mind is reliving the experience rather than remembering and you can lose awareness of time while it occurs.
Tools to try: EMDR therapy (professional required); 5 Ways to Handle Video
Our moods (or states) are influenced by our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs related to ourselves and the world around us. As a first responder, you are exposed to more negative experiences and can develop negative thought patterns which, in turn, can lead to negative mood. This can present as agitation, anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, or apathy (lack of emotion).
Tools to try: Comedy; Music; Time in Nature; Connect with Others
Who wants to experience reminders of unpleasant events? Attempting to avoid these reminders (memories, feelings, places, people, etc) can be done in many forms. Some behaviors are meant to numb (substance use) while others are meant to control (driving a route that bypasses locations) and others are to minimize exposure (staying home away from people).
Tools to try: Reprocess triggers; Detox; Connect with others
Impact events result in increased stress. Remember, these events can be both positive or negative. Does the responsibility of a promotion cause stress? Does a bad call cause stress? All of this stress can lead to chemical, biological, and physical changes in the brain and body. Watch this video to learn more about how stress effects us and how this can present as physical symptoms.
We all have a range in which we can tolerate stress before being pushed in or out of a state of hyper or hypo arousal. Impact events can increase our stress levels and reduce this window, making us more susceptible to being pushed into one of these arousal states more easily than usual. Watch this video to learn more.
A number of events, both positive and negative, can impact us. Click on the cards below to learn more about the four types of impact events (also referred to as pie):.
Professional Impact Event (P.I.E.)
Personal Impact Event (P.I.E.)
Major Impact Event (P.I.E)
Minor Impact Event (P.i.E.)
First responders are exposed to professional impact events daily. This can come in the form of promotions, demotions, a bad call, a suicide, retirement, leadership, moral dilemmas, physical or emotional injury. Remember, these events can be positive or negative while still impacting you.
Personal impact events can also accumulate and impact your window of tolerance (see card under First Responder). Personal impact events can include a move, marriage, divorce, death, health issues, children, education, or finances. Like professional impact events, these events can be either positive or negative.
Impact events can occur as major events that have bigger impacts. Some common negative major impact events can include natural disasters, a significant loss, or a call involving an infant or individual you know. Some common positive major impact events can include marriage, birth of a child, or a promotion.
Life is made up of many small events that can leave little impact. However, over time these little impact events can accumulate and have a similar effect on an individual equal to a major impact event. Some common minor impact events can include change in finances, a move, or new leadership. Whether the events are major or minor, the effects can lead to the same outcome if not managed well.