EMS Burnout

EMS Burnout

Emergency medical services (EMS) workers deal with unique work-related stresses that can affect overall mental health and well-being. EMS's daily work life holds significant occupational hazards that can negatively impact an individual’s quality of life and heighten risks for post-traumatic mental health conditions. The effects of frequent and intense exposure to traumatic critical incidents, workplace bullying, conflicts within organizational structures, high call volumes, and disrupted sleep schedules due to shift work can accumulate until the emotional weight impacts one’s sense of self, physical health, and mental health safety. Is not uncommon for workplace stress to spill over into close relationships, such as family, friends, life partners and children. In this blog post, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Juanita Marshall, explores “EMS Burnout” and offers suggestions on how you can cope with your risks for mental health injury. Juanita has a special interest in counselling EMS personnel. If you or someone you know is struggling with EMS Burnout and would like to work with Juanita, you can book an appointment with them here.

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

Here is a list of signs and symptoms that you might be suffering from or heading towards burnout:

  • persistent exhaustion and tiredness
  • more easily frustrated, irritable, or short-tempered
  • feeling numb, indifferent, or emotionally exhausted
  • feeling angry, sad, or depressed
  • feeling overwhelmed, alone, or helpless
  • experiencing trouble going or staying asleep
  • experiencing headaches, increased muscle tension or gastrointestinal upsets
  • less interest in socializing or doing things that used to make you feel better (like going to the gym or watching movies)
  • finding yourself driving faster and getting angry with drivers around you
  • increased use of alcohol, tobacco, prescription or illicit drugs and substances to unwind
  • increased worry or apathy about going to work
  • less interest in quality of patient care or engaging with coworkers


If the list above includes signs or symptoms you have been experiencing, here are four coping strategies you can try to combat burnout. 

  1. Assess your safety risk
    Before we can cope with anything, we need to first understand the depth of what is going on. Start by checking in with yourself. Are you feeling good about yourself, your life, and those you care about? Do you see yourself in the list of symptoms? Have you been noticing changes in your professional empathy for patients and coworkers? Have your family or friends begun to withdraw or changed their behaviours around you? Have you stopped doing the hobbies and playtime activities that you used to do for fun?  What might need to change for you to feel more yourself again?
  2. Increase your self-care
    Simple changes can have a huge impact. You might find that increasing your intake of water and eating healthier foods helps to improve your mood. Begin creating a sleep routine to help you get enough rest to reset between shifts. Self-care can also look like making time for fun or engaging in some ecotherapy by going for a walk in nature. Self-care can also look like self-compassion. Speak kindly to yourself, let yourself know that things are hard right now and that you are working towards change. Notice what tends to fill your cup and do more of it. Notice what tends to empty your cup and try and find ways to do less of that.
  3. Strengthen your connections with others
    Our brains are hard-wired for connection. We need positive connections with others to thrive. Research shows that you can alter your heart rate and biochemical stress response towards being relaxed by engaging with meaningful relationships. Who makes you feel good about yourself and being alive? This includes pets, children, family members, neighbours, and friends. When was the last time you made relaxed eye contact with a stranger in the grocery store? Do you still belly-laughed with your kid, significant other, partner, or friend?  Remember, small steps can create significant needed change over time.
  4. Find a counsellor you don’t have to educate to gain their help
    EMS and First Responders require counselling that recognizes their inherent risks. There are trauma-informed therapeutic tools such as EMDR, sensorimotor somatic therapy, and clinical hypnosis (to name a few of many!). However, the most important ingredient for people to succeed in therapy is working with someone knowledgeable and empathetic who makes them feel safe and understood. Finding a therapist who is comfortable diving into the difficult topics that come with working within the EMS profession is vital. It is important for self-care and mental health safety to find a counsellor or psychologist you can trust who has some insider understanding of the world you work in. 

More about Specialized EMS Counselling with Juanita

Juanita Marshall has personal experience supporting EMS family and friends. This coupled with Juanita’s professional counselling credentials has made Juanita a fierce advocate for EMS mental Health. Learn more about Juanita's experience with EMS mental health services below.

“I have been a support for EMS family and friends throughout their first class in EMR to eventually working as Advanced EMT paramedics. I’ve listened to their work stories and helped them work through the variety of thoughts and emotions that can come from difficult, complicated, and traumatic calls in rural, rural northern, and urban settings. I have been in the lives of people who work in 911 dispatch or rural volunteer fire departments and gained their perspectives on emergency medicine in the field. Prior to that, I was peer support for military members and their families for over 16 years. I grew up in a community of medics who had served in war zones and watched them wrestle with long-term mental health costs to their unresolved trauma. I am dedicated to develop my professional trauma-informed education to better support clients impacted by chronic and significant traumatic stress. I work within a trauma-informed person-centred approach that relies upon building relationships of trust as a core professional value.”

Further Resources

If you would like more information on burnout and EMS mental health, you can take a look at the resources below. 

  • First Responders: Behavioral Health Concerns, Emergency Response, and Trauma https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/dtac/supplementalresearchbulletin-firstresponders-may2018.pdf

  • Healthy Minds in EMS https://canadianparamedicine.ca/healthy-minds-in-ems/

  • Burnout and PTSD? https://canadianparamedicine.ca/burnout-and-ptsd/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burnout-and-ptsd

  • Eat Sleep and Be Healthy; A Paramedics Guid to healthier Shift Work https://canadianparamedicine.ca/eat-sleep-and-be-healthy-a-paramedics-guide-to-healthier-shift-work/

  • Self-Care for Emergency Responders After a Paramedic Program https://www.oxfordedu.ca/self-care-for-emergency-responders-after-a-paramedic-program/

  • Self-Care https://www.paramedicsofmanitoba.ca/site/wr/selfcare?nav=wellness

  • Rural and Remote Paramedicine, Our Dirty Little Secret https://canadianparamedicine.ca/rural-and-remote-paramedicine-our-dirty-little-secret/

  • What You Need to Know About First Responder Counselling https://www.ems1.com/amu/articles/what-you-need-to-know-about-first-responder-counseling-QLgP8GhqsQis9j5i/

  • New CSA Standard Addresses Psychological Health and Safety for the Paramedic Community https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/new-csa-standard-addresses-psychological-health-and-safety-for-the-paramedic-community---a-canadian-first-680953851.html

  • Recommended Practices for Supporting Mental Health in First Reponders https://bcfirstrespondersmentalhealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Recommended-Practices-for-Supporting-Mental-Health-in-First-Responders-170615.pdf

  • The National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians https://www.naemt.org/ 

  • The Paramedic Association of Canada https://www.paramedic.ca/ 

  • International Paramedic Practice https://www.internationaljpp.com/




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