Working the Frontline: Bringing Light to PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is finally being acknowledged and talked about but we still have a long way to go to alleviate the psychological hazards of working on the frontline.
Most first responders who experience a traumatic event don’t even realize how much it’s affected them. They don’t attribute their anxiety, sleep disturbances, irritability, isolation or body aches to a certain traumatic event or to a series of traumatic events.
I can’t even count how many first responders I spoke to after the Humboldt hockey team tragedy who felt incredibly triggered and irritable because people would not stop talking about it. They kept telling me, “I can’t take anymore. I don’t want to hear this story again.” They simply couldn’t handle any more trauma and were avoiding social media, the news and anyone who was going to remind them of the pain and stress that they experience on a regular basis.
One critical care nurse came to me during this time with this same complaint. I suggested we work on those memories that lingered over the years and that’s exactly what we did. A 16-year veteran paramedic friend of mine refers to these memories as, “The calls that won’t leave your head.” To my client’s surprise, she carried a lot of repressed emotion over memories that she thought had no effect. We used the Emotional Freedom Technique—EFT, to release this old emotional stress, only to have her tell me after our one-hour session that she felt 40 lbs lighter—40 lbs that she didn’t even realize she carried!
One of the most valuable skills frontline emergency care workers have is to remain calm during crises. The only problem with this is that it may not be entirely obvious that some of those situations still need to be processed after the fact. Just because an individual doesn’t have an immediate emotional reaction doesn’t mean that it’s not there. There can still be long-term effects from the calls that are, “Just part of the job,” and sometimes those calls can end a career, or even worse, be the final stress to end a life.
Think of a gumball machine. You can put only so much gum in before you have to take some out. If you continue to force candy into the machine beyond it’s capacity, it’s eventually going to burst. It’s not much different with human beings. We can only take so much stress before we need to find an outlet. A healthy individual is the one who makes sure they, “Remove the gumballs,” or release the stress and strain of life before it gets to be too much. In order to do this, we first need to be aware of what’s happening and then have tools and resources to deal with it.
There is hope and ways to release the trauma that first responders go through. Clinical studies suggest that the Emotional Freedom Technique, EFT, is one of the most gentle and effective ways to heal the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, it was the go-to tool used in the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, CT, the Rwanda genocide survivors, Project Light, and has also been approved by the U.S. War Veterans Integrative Health Coordinating Center as a modality to treat PTSD.
EFT consists of tapping on acupressure points to release the stress response in the brain. It is remarkably effective in re-patterning negative thinking patterns and providing relief from stress related symptoms.
We don’t often acknowledge the gift that first responders give. They knowingly put themselves in harms way, both physically and psychologically, and they do this day after day. Can there be any doubt that this will take it’s toll? The good news is there are ways to address this chronic stress so that it doesn’t have long term effects. Although some memories may never be entirely erased, the emotional pain and stress that went with them can be released and this makes all the difference.
For more information about Dawn’s services or EFT, she can be reached at EmbracingMyLight.ca.