Self-care for Emergency Responders during the COVID-19 pandemic

Emergency responders – healthcare workers, public health professionals, law enforcement, emergency operations staff, and others – are heroes in the battle against coronavirus. King County is grateful for your dedication to our community’s health. Thank you.

Balanced You knows you are working long hours, making difficult decisions, enduring trauma, and facing human tragedy. Many of you are tired and stressed. Balanced You is here to support emergency responders as you care for your own well-being and our community. Below, you will find tips and resources you can use as you respond, professionally and personally, to coronavirus.

Physical health

Be gentle with yourself. Your normal routine may be difficult right now, considering your current work hours and stress. If your schedule allows you to develop a new, modified routine for regular exercise, rest, and food, do so. If not, just do your best each day.

  • Rest: Aim for 7-9 hours of rest. Remember to keep your sleeping space cool, dark, quiet, and without bright screens. If sleep is difficult, try winding-down before bed with a meditation.
  • Exercise: Moving your body each day will help you release stress and sleep better. Remember, exercise does not have to be done at once; it can be done in 5 -10-minute increments throughout the day. For inspiration, try Balanced You’s videos of easy desk stretches and exercises that can be done whether you’re working at home, in the field, or in the office.
  • Nutrition: If you have time to cook, check out this Balanced You blog post on healthy eating during coronavirus. Cooking in large batches and freezing leftovers can save time and money. If you don’t have time to cook, consider stocking up on nutritious shortcuts – including healthier frozen meals, low-sodium canned soups, and quick snacks like nuts and fruit – and storing some at work, or ordering healthy delivery from a favorite restaurant.
  • Hydration: Long hours can mean more caffeine. Remember to also drink water or herbal tea, 6-8 cups per day, if possible.

Stress reduction techniques

Stress levels are understandably high right now and the emotions in response can range from numbness to sadness to anger. Here are some techniques you can practice to help manage stress during this time:

  • Buddy system: Pair up with someone at work and check-in on each other. Learn each other’s interests, workloads, and points of stress. Encourage breaks and self-care.
  • Journal: Write about what you are experiencing. Label your feelings and describe them. Remember, whatever you are feeling is valid.
  • Coping skills: We all have things we do to help manage our stress; some of us clean, some of us exercise, some of us watch funny tv or play video games, some of us call friends. Use the skills that work for you and be careful not to focus too strongly on only one. Moderation is important, even in coping skills.
  • Breath work: Inhale while counting to four and exhale while counting to four.
  • Connecting with the senses: Name five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things that you smell (or like to smell), one thing you taste (or like to taste), and one good thing about today.

Additional resources

Remember that community members’ health is not more important your own. If you would like additional support in caring for your health and well-being, the following resources are available to you:

  • Mental or physical healthcare via telehealth: Regence and Kaiser therapists and other healthcare providers, including doctors and physical therapists, can be accessed from the comfort and safety of your home, via telehealth. If you have a provider, ask them if telehealth is available so you can continue your treatment routine while social distancing. If you don’t have a certain type of provider and would like one, contact your insurance company.
  • Making Life Easier and Employee Assistance Program: Making Life Easier (MLE) provides free counseling and referrals, credit and legal consultations, mortgage assistance, and childcare resources and referrals, in addition to a myriad of other issues. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides free counseling to help King County employees navigate workplace stress.
  • Mental Health Resource Guide: View this guide for additional King County and community-based mental health support resources.
  • CDC resources: The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is a great resource for more information on self-care for emergency responders.

Do you have other healthy practices while serving as an emergency responder? We would love to hear them. For questions or more information, contact balancedyou@kingcounty.gov or 206-263-9626.

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