3 Tips Ambulance Work Taught Me About Managing Stress

by Justin Faraday
(Seattle, WA)

I was introduced to a new kind of stress when I became an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). For my first year on the job, I ran on pure adrenaline and excitement. Then the stress started to build up. I began compartmentalizing my emotions to cope with the intense experiences I was having. Emergency calls that months ago were easy for me to deal with suddenly became emotionally challenging. It felt like I was losing my ability to keep cool.

Then one day my partner and I almost lost a patient due to an error in judgment. We were able to revive the patient, but the event tipped my stress level over the edge. I knew I had to search for ways to manage my stress on the job if I wanted to continue working in emergency medicine.

These are a few of the strategies that helped me reduce my stress and anxiety:

1. Music Therapy

Music can have a powerful and transformative effect on emotions and motivation. In situations where anxiety is induced by stress, listening to music can reduce anxiety according to a recent study. (1)

Studies also show that listening to music that you genuinely enjoy can cause dopamine to be released in the brain, leading to improved focus and increased feelings of well-being. (2)

This was certainly the case with me the day I almost lost that patient. Sitting in the ambulance after dropping the patient off at the ER, a hip-hop song I used to listen to in high school came on. It immediately transported me back to a happier time. By the end of the song, my anxiety and guilt had almost entirely melted away.

From that day on, I made a playlist of songs that had strong connections to happy memories. After stressful calls, I’d listen my stress away.

2. Exercise For Stress Reduction

Hearing that song made me want to move around. As I sat in the ambulance feeling my stress leave me, it felt natural to want to get my blood flowing. When we had an opportunity in between calls, my partner and I found somewhere quiet to park the rig. I got out, danced around a little, and did some push-ups, lunges, and squats. When I hopped back into the ambulance, I felt like a million bucks. From then on, I realized that bouncing back from difficult calls was as easy as listening to the right music and squeezing in a couple of minutes of light exercise.

Exercise has widespread benefits for brain health and stress reduction. Exercise increases the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain. BDNF is a protein that’s critical for learning, memory, and protection against the effects of aging. Dr. John J. Ratey M.D. calls BDNF “Miracle-gro for the brain” in his book, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain, because of the central role it plays in brain health.(3)

3. Ashwagandha Root Extract

I badly wanted to find a way to manage my stress long-term so that I could continue with ambulance work. The stress from the job was the result of more than just the occasional overwhelming call. I was driving in the ambulance through heavy traffic for twelve hours straight, four days a week. That much time on the road was contributing to chronically elevated cortisol levels.

Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone. When levels in the body are too high for too long, it can lead to further complications like imbalanced hormone levels, increased inflammation, poor sleep, and ultimately greater anxiety. (4)

Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps restore healthy function to the adrenal gland and balance hormone production. (5)

After only two weeks of supplementing with ashwagandha, I experienced a huge reduction in my anxiety. The most surprising effect was that I became much less sensitive to caffeine. For my entire life leading up to that point, I avoided coffee because it often made me anxious, and occasionally made my ears itchy and throat sore. After a few weeks of regular ashwagandha supplementation, all of these symptoms disappeared.

Final Thoughts

Working in the ambulance forced me to get serious about managing my mental health. I embraced the therapeutic effects of music and exercise. With a little research, I was able to find an herbal supplement that worked wonders at reducing the long-term effects of chronic stress. Experiment with music, exercise, and supplements to find what works for you. Other strategies that I’ve found beneficial include yoga, passionflower extract, and omega-3 fish oil supplements.

Author Bio: Justin Faraday is a former EMT and massive health and nutrition enthusiast. After struggling with his health for many years, he got serious about feeling incredible. Get stellar mental health and nutrition advice at his blog, dopefreshit.com

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11573015/
2. https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.2726
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ratey
4. Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270108/

For more information on stress relief visit the Natural Stress Relief Guide.

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EMT Stress Management
by: Val

Hi Jason,
Thanks for sharing your experiences of managing stress naturally as an EMT. I love that you use music, herbs, and exercise to calm yourself and feel better. We sure do appreciate the work you do helping us in our greatest times of need.

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