Paramedics and Stress - What we need to know

Stress is common among paramedics as they confront trauma and violence on a daily basis. While stress at most workplaces is related to conflict with coworkers and too many responsibilities, paramedics experience stress from traumatic events and the loss of human life. People in this job must learn about the causes, symptoms and solutions for paramedics and stress.

Causes of Stress

Being exposed to trauma, violence and death on a regular basis is a common stressor for paramedics, but it isn't the only cause of stress. Paramedics are exposed to traumatic, non-traumatic and organizational stressors that conspire to create stress, potentially leading to emotional issues and/or physical or psychological illness. In addition to individual consequences, stress also takes a toll on the function of emergency departments and their communities. A frantic work pace mixed with a heavy workload also leads to paramedics feeling frazzled. Since paramedics also perform shift work, they can derive stress from working nights or working 24-hour cycles, as is common in the paramedic field.

Effects of Stress to the Human Body

Stress can be detrimental to the human body if steps aren't taken to relieve it. Stress increases blood pressure and cholesterol while decreasing the immune system and weakening the body's natural ability to fight off viruses and bacteria.

Physical Signs of Stress

Stress in a paramedic can be physically felt in the body in a number of ways. Headaches, high blood pressure and fatigue are common physical signs of stress. Frequent illness can also be a sign since the body's immune system is compromised.

Mental Signs of Stress

Impatience and defensiveness are two signs of stress that paramedics may experience. Depression and apathy to their work can also signal stress in a paramedic's body. Paramedics need to recognize these symptoms of stress early and get treatment, since someone's life can depend on whether a paramedic is functioning at her best. Fortunately, police, fire and ambulance agencies have initiated various preventive measures in an effort to mitigate the ill-effects of continued exposure to stressors by their personnel. However, combating stress effectively requires more than offering individual coping skills and access to counseling for Paramedics.

Stress Prevention

To best preserve the well being of their workers, emergency service administrators must recognize the impact of stress from a variety of sources, including organizational factors, and approach stress prevention in a multi-staged and comprehensive manner, paying special attention to primary stage interventions. When agencies embrace and act on a broad, holistic view of stress management that includes instituting cultural and organizational changes to support stress prevention, significant improvements in the stress level and health of Paramedics will be possible.


Reynolds, Christine A and Wagner, Shannon L. Stress and First Responders: The Need for a Multidimensional Approach to Stress Management [online]. International Journal of Disability Management Research, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2008: 27-36. Availability: a href=";dn=688034817703324;res=IELHEA">;dn=688034817703324;res=IELHEA> ISSN: 1833-8550. [cited 07 Dec 10].

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Comment by Rob Harrison on February 8, 2012 at 10:32am

One of our approaches is this, a nonprofit registering in Washington as Responder CareNet. Our plan is to help other districts set up their own Nets.

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