There are a number of stress-relieving strategies that GSAR members can engage in to help manage stress from their SAR activities. These include maintaining a healthy lifestyle what includes eating sensibly, avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol, drinking water, and getting sufficient exercise and rest before, during, and after a SAR callout.
After a particularly emotional or stressful SAR response, spending time with family and friends and continuing to participate in your usual social and recreational activities can help manage stress and regain some “normalcy” in your life. At the same time, it is important to watch for any changes in your habits, attitudes and moods that may be a result of stress reactions associated with the SAR response, and to ask for help before they begin to seriously impact your daily life.
Many people may experience the following common responses after a stressful SAR response:
- Feeling overwhelmed and helpless
- Fear, worry and exhaustion
- Increased frustration
- Lack of appetite, intestinal issues
- Lack of patience and feeling short/snippy with others
- Lack of sleep or difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
These are normal responses to an abnormal event. The longer you are in SAR, the more variety of callouts and the higher chance you will experience tough callouts (critical incidents). However, there are hundreds of SAR members who have done SAR for many years and have avoided lasting harmful effects by applying proven coping strategies and seeking help when needed.
Some coping strategies for dealing with critical incident stress:
- Eat healthy foods, low in sugar and fat, vegetables and protein are better
- Drink lots of water – to flush out stress hormones and chemicals
- Get regular exercise – preferably outdoors, best in natural surroundings, even a brisk ten minute walk relieves stress – exercise increases blood flow through blood cleansing organs removing stress hormones and chemicals
- Avoid alcohol and drugs – they may dull the pain, but can add new problems and complicate recovery
- Avoid doing the “instant replays” or dwelling on the incident – reliving the incident in your mind may release more hormones and chemicals – distract yourself when you feel those thoughts come on
- Maintain social connection – find someone supportive to talk to
- Talk about how you are feeling and encourage family and associates to do so as well. Talking helps make sense of what can be an overwhelming experience
- Keep to your usual routine, it helps establish and maintain a sense of normalcy
- Make efforts get adequate rest and sleep
- Try to maintain a healthy balance between family, work, and volunteering
- Keep supporting others (e.g. SAR team) who may be experiencing similar feelings and symptoms
Know When to Seek Help
Most often Critical Incident Stress runs a natural course. The intensity and frequency of symptoms will diminish with time. However in many cases individual or group interventions can be invaluable in supporting and aiding individuals experiencing Critical Incident Stress to return to normalcy quicker.
Any SAR volunteer can access the BCSARA CISM Program by calling the EMBC Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) at 1-800-663-3456 and asking to have a peer support person contact them.