Learn more about signs of stress and stress management including additional resources and online trainings.
First responders face an increased risk of experiencing behavioral health issues including mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Fear of being seen as weak or not up to the job of a first responder keeps many from seeking help. Responders can build their resilience by increasing awareness about risk factors and warning signs, talking with each other, and using healthy coping strategies.
Visit the Tips for Preparing to Deploy web page for information on relevant concepts and associated tools to assist organizations to prepare responders for disaster behavioral health deployment.
Stress Management for Responders
Responders are exposed to demanding and tense situations on a regular basis, with some of the most intense situations during and after disasters. Every disaster is different. Are many people affected? Is there a massive amount of destruction? Have many people died? Is the working environment stable? Are there enough resources to properly assist and care for the survivors? Are you or your family personally affected? All these questions and more play a role in the stress levels of responders.
Below are possible signs of stress, as well as tips that may be helpful to manage stress before, during, and after a disaster.
Signs of Stress
- Bodily sensations and physical effects such as rapid heart rate, headaches, nausea, inability to relax when off duty, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Strong negative feelings
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Problematic or risky behaviors
- Social conflicts
Stress Management Tips
- Know your role during a disaster.
- Develop a self-care plan prior to deployment, and use it during deployment.
- Practice stress management during all phases of the disaster response effort.
- Involve loved ones in your preparation and planning activities.
- Make sure you have an individual and family preparedness plan to cover loved ones if the disaster is in your community.
For more information on how to manage the stress of deployment to a disaster, please see SAMHSA DTAC’s Tips for Disaster Responders: Preventing and Managing Stress.
This 1-hour online training course was developed to help first responders cope with the stressors involved in the opioid crisis. The course is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Pre-hospital Continuing Education (CAPCE), which reviews and approves trainings for continuing education credit for emergency medical services (EMS) professionals.
Creating Safe Scenes
This 1.5-hour online course, also accredited by CAPCE, helps first responders use safe, positive approaches to assist individuals in crises related to mental illness or substance use disorders.
Shield of Resilience
This 1-hour online course provides law enforcement officers with a foundational skill set to better understand and address stressors that are unique to law enforcement.
Service to Self
Specifically for fire and EMS personnel, this hour-long online course (CAPCE-accredited) covers occupational stressors, mental health and substance use issues that are more common among fire and EMS personnel, individual and organizational resilience, and stress management.
Resources for First Responders
These tip sheets may help first responders prepare for a disaster response and recover after one has ended. Several of the tip sheets are available in languages other than English.
- Tips for Healthcare Professionals: Coping with Stress and Compassion Fatigue (Spanish)
- Are You Working to Help People Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic? (Spanish)
- Tips for Health Care Practitioners and Responders: Helping Survivors Cope With Grief After a Disaster or Traumatic Event
- Adjusting to Life at Home: Tips for Families of Returning Disaster Responders (Spanish)
- Helping Staff Manage Stress When Returning to Work: Tips for Supervisors of Disaster Responders (Spanish)
- Tips for Disaster Responders: Identifying Substance Misuse in the Responder Community
- Tips for Disaster Responders: Preventing and Managing Stress (Spanish)
- Tips for Disaster Responders: Returning to Work (Spanish)
- Tips for Disaster Responders: Understanding Compassion Fatigue (Spanish)
Other Online Disaster Behavioral Health Trainings
Are you interested in more training on a specific aspect of disaster behavioral health? The Online Disaster Behavioral Health Training collection, part of the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series, highlights free online trainings on topics including crisis intervention and Psychological First Aid. Some of these trainings are available for continuing education credit.