How to Handle Stress

by Abigail Melendez

911 dispatchers have one of the most stressful jobs in America. Police, Fire, and Ambulance dispatchers score a 98.5 out of 100 for stress tolerance of the 0*net stress factor scoring system.

Because dispatchers are the lifeline between people in dangerous situations and the help they need, they often have to talk people through some grueling and fear-stricken moments. Despite the panic ringing though the lines, dispatchers know they have to remain calm even in the most dire situations.

When many people think of first responders, police officers, fire fighters and EMTs come to mind. Although they may not be first on the scene, 911 dispatchers are actually the first responders to the emergency, listening to and helping people through difficult and often life threatening situations. Dealing with frightened callers and emergency situations can make the life of a 911 dispatcher extremely stressful. With a high turnover rate due to burnout from stress and dealing with tragedy, it is important to remember that there are ways to handle that stress so that you can keep working as a first responder and saving the lives of others.

  • Before Starting a Shift - Even before you arrive at work for your shift, there are ways that you can help to manage your stress. The most important thing is to make sure you are getting enough sleep each night. Although this may seem like a simple idea, many people don’t get the recommended 8 hours of sleep each day. This can cause your brain to work more slowly than normal, simple tasks become more difficult, and it can be more challenging to remain calm in a frustrating or problematic situation. While these effects are detrimental in any profession, they are especially harmful for a 911 dispatcher who is dealing with high stress situations under a lot of pressure to help the person on the other end of the phone line.
  • During a Shift - In between calls, it may seem like there is not enough time to take stress-reducing measures – but think again! Deep breathing exercises, talking a walk outside during your lunch break, or meditation can all be great options to center yourself and prepare for the next incoming call. In general, increasing the oxygen in the brains helps to lower the heart rate and reduce muscle tension, all clear signs of stress. If you start to experience any of these signs of stress during your shift, take a few, slow breaths or meditate while at your desk. After a particularly difficult call, it may be worth it to take a break outside with some fresh air.
  • After a Shift - Once you leave work after having dealt with numerous calls over the course of your shift, it is important to find ways to unwind and unload the stress that you felt that day. Some proven stress-relieving options are exercise and journaling, for example. Exercise, no matter what kind you prefer, allows you to expend the extra energy that is pent up in your body due to stress. If you’re not keen on exercising after a long day of work, journaling can be just as effective. Getting out your thoughts, fears, and worries about the outcome of the calls you dealt with can be extremely beneficial to your mental health and to reducing your overall stress levels.

At the end of each day, it is important to remember that you are a 9-1-1 dispatcher, a job that comes with a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of rewards. You, as a first responder, play an important role in hundreds of emergency situations per week, making a difference in an enormous amount of lives. In order to continue playing this important role, it is important that you take time each day, whether it is before, during or after your shift, to deal with the stress that the job will inevitably cause.