People normally associate firefighting with danger. When speaking to friends and family about entering into the fire service, everyone has said that firefighting is a dangerous profession. There has been several discussions about the hazards of battling fires inside burning structures. Concern has been expressed about the dangers of exposure to fire and the radiated heat from flames and smoldering materials. No one can deny that firefighting is a dangerous profession for all those reasons, but there is a much more common danger that is often overlooked.
This is something that every EMS professional is at risk of falling victim to: burnout. Burnout, as we know it today, was said to have been originally coined by Herbert J. Freudenberger, PhD, a New York psychologist. Dr. Freudenberger defined burnout as “a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, way of life, or a relationship that failed to produce the expected reward. ” Burnout is used to characterize the loss of physical, emotional and mental energy. It is a slow and gradual process that often occurs in individuals who attempt to reach unrealistic and unattainable goals.
The majority of those who experience burnout are the people who are most enthusiastic and energetic towards their work and projects. Their expectations of what should be undertaken and the possibilities that can be achieved are usually extremely high. Once some of the goals aren’t achieved, or some of the expectations aren’t met, the enthusiasm and energy displayed by these individuals begin to fade. If these individuals decide not to adjust their goals, or lower their objectives, frustration grows as they attempt to strive even harder.
The result is the beginning of the vicious cycle of burnout. In severe cases of burnout, individuals who were enthusiastic about their work will grow so cold and empty inside that they no longer care. In the fire service it’s easy to fall victim to burnout. As a new recruit you want to prove yourself, you’re eager and willing to successfully complete any task placed before you. As the years on the job progress you find yourself continuously learning new procedures, methods and fire codes, trying to stay ahead and remain sharp.
As a veteran firefighter you continue to do the same things you’ve been doing over the years plus you’re adding new responsibilities as you promote through the department. Although preventable, with all the pressures within the fire service, burnout seems inevitable. Is your job boring to you? Is it no longer fun? Do you find yourself watching the clock? Do you feel as if you’re wasting your life? There are many questions you can ask yourself to see if you may be beginning to burnout.
Many people reach a point where they are dissatisfied with their job, but may not know why they are unhappy, or what they can do about it. Often, these people are suffering from burnout. Burnout can range from mild boredom to a lack of interest in one’s work to severe depression and physical illness. You can’t always tell when burnout strikes, but burnout victims often share common feelings and frames of mind. There are several signs and symptoms of burnout. Although these signs and symptoms vary with each sufferer, they give some insight as to what might be seen.
People experiencing burnout are bored most of the time. They’re usually turned off by their assignments and have little enthusiasm for their job. Those who are overworked likely suffer fatigue and stress that leads to burnout. Burnout victims have a hard time applying themselves to their work because they find it boring and unfulfilling. They have low self-esteem because they feel like failures in their careers. As self-esteem sinks lower, the burnout victim becomes overly introverted and withdrawn. They don’t socialize or communicate with co-workers.
Getting out of bed to face the workday is an agonizing struggle for most sufferers of burnout. Burnout is a direct effect of too much stress. People know if they’re stressed. Stress hormones, like adrenaline, help us react to extreme situations, but if those hormones don’t turn off, they can wear the body down. Symptoms of stress can cause nervousness, fatigue, insomnia, heartburn, headaches, stomach aches, and constipation. Lasting stress increases the risk of heart disease, impairs memory, weakens the immune system, and can accelerate the aging processes.
Some individuals who suffer from burnout actually become obsessive workaholics, others become chronically late or psychologically absent. Some people become angry, blowing up or growling at anyone who crosses their path. Others become quiet, introverted, and isolated, which can lead to serious depression. Some burnout victims become overeaters, begin to abuse alcohol, or other substances. How long have you felt such pressure to succeed? How long have you noticed that your relationships with friends and co-workers have been affected? When did you start to lose your sense of humor?
Finding the answer to these questions is the beginning restoring the balance and normality in your life. The next step is making some definitive changes in our life. Once you recognize there’s a problem, take the action necessary to correct it. A lot of the methods used to relieve stress can also help to recover from burnout. Things like watching the fluid movement of fish swimming to calm the nerves. Listening to calming music like classical and jazz, and also listening to audio of nature sounds can help to soothe you. Drink hot tea, such as chamomile or green tea, to cause a feeling of calmness.
Watch what you eat, but don’t skip meals or start any rigid diets, and make sure to get adequate sleep. Take quick exercise breaks periodically during the day. There are still more ways help the burnout victim. As usual, the beginning of the end to any problem is admitting that there is a problem. Admit freely the stresses and pressures that have manifested physically, mentally, or emotionally. Pinpoint those areas or aspects that summon up the most concentrated intensity and work toward alleviating that pressure. Avoid isolation by developing or renewing intimacies with friends and loved ones.
Try to reassess your values by sorting out the meaningful values from the temporary and fleeting, the essential from the nonessential. Diminish worry and anxiety by spending less time worrying and more time taking care of your real needs. Ascertain what is wanted and needed in your life, then begin to balance work with love, pleasure, and relaxation. Make it a point to broaden your knowledge, master new skills and learn new things. By continually trying new things, you become well-rounded. Some cases require a stronger approach. Learn to say “no”.
Speak up for yourself and learn to refuse additional requests or demands on your time or emotions. Become more active in your own field by rekindling your interest in your profession. If the burnout is real severe, and you feel stuck in a rut, take on different work. If the situation can’t be resolved any other way changing jobs is the answer. Also, changing fields is another effective cure. Address issues as they rise. Try not to keep your frustrations and anger pent up inside. Integrate some improved time management into your life. Learn to delegate responsibilities to others at work, home, and with friends.
Also, set aside some time each day for mental and physical relaxation. There are many dangers facing firefighters. Out of all of them, the most common is burnout. Burnout is a cumulative process that leads to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal. The three main symptoms of burnout include detachment, exhaustion, and loss of satisfaction. Friends and family are usually the first to notice these symptoms. There are several ways of helping the recovery and preventing the occurrence of burnout. If you educate yourself on the issue of burnout then prevention will be a lot easier.