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5 Ways to Reduce Stress as a Dispatcher
Everyone, even those who have never had a dispatching job, understands that working at a public safety answering point (PSAP) can be very difficult.
Stress is an unavoidable part of any job where lives can be routinely at stake, and the person on the other end of the line is very likely to be feeling some kind of stress of their own.
One of the things about stress that few understand is that it's not a really a negative thing. It doesn't mean you're having trouble processing your work or that the job is "getting to you".
In fact, in the moment, stress can give you that extra impetus to focus on your work and perform better than you imagined you could. But like anything, too much stress can be a bad thing, and you're going to have to find ways to mitigate it if you want to continue to function at your best.
The Onset of Stress
It's not always easy to tell when stress is a factor.
Some signs are easy to see, while others are more subtle and easily attributed to some other cause.
- Feel tired and listless?
- Do you have no interest in the things that used to interest you?
- Sleep too much or too little?
That may not be mere exhaustion; you could be suffering from stress, as well. See our page The Importance of Sleep for more.
Of course, there are more overt signs of stress to watch for as well: hyperactivity, obsessiveness, compulsive actions, poor memory, and nervous habits are classic signs that stress levels are becoming overwhelming.
Eventually, these symptoms can even lead to physical problems such as ulcers, shaking hands, high blood pressure, sweating, even heart disease. It's important to find ways to reduce your stress levels before they become a physical problem that prevents you from working at all.
Quick Stress Relief
When you're working as a dispatcher, you don't have time to step away from your desk to practice the stress relieving activities that you normally would at home.
There are, however, a few ways you can put a little space between yourself and a stressful situation, so you can continue to operate at your best.
Have you noticed how your breathing changes when you're in a charged situation?
It happens to all of us: we start breathing quicker and harder in response to whatever's going on. Breathing in an easy, deep, slow manner can often be the first step toward calm.
Traditionally, the best way to breathe is to inhale through your nose, then exhale through your mouth, making sure each breath is deep and full. Physiologically, breathing like this can slow your heart, relax your muscles, and oxygenate your brain.
See our pages on Relaxation Techniques for more on breathing exercises.
We have a natural tendency to want to see whatever it is we're doing to the very end, even if it's extremely difficult - sometimes, especially when the situation is extremely difficult.
Sometimes, however, the best solution is to step away and let someone else handle it. If you're feeling stress coming on and a co-worker offers to take over, it's okay to let them. When you start feeling those signs of stress, one of the best things you can do is take a break and get some distance from the cause of that stress.
Away from the Console
Stress isn't something we leave behind when we go home from work. In fact, a lot of causes of stress can originate at home, or be compounded by things we encounter in our day to day lives.
Fortunately, at home, you have a great many more options for dealing with stress, because you (usually) have more time to deal with it.
Now, the methods mentioned above still work no matter where you are, but they're best for short term stress relief stemming from a particular event.
For daily life, it's best to cultivate activities and attitudes that reduce stress on a long-term basis.
When most people hear the word "meditation", they immediately think of sitting in the lotus position, hands on knees, and chanting mantras. While that actually is a good way to mitigate stress, the definition of meditation actually encompasses so much more. At its heart, meditation means to think or contemplate. Instead of obsessing over how something could have been done, meditating is the process of letting something go.
This doesn't have to mean sitting quietly, trying to clear your mind of all thoughts. It may be better for you to write down your thoughts in a journal. You might feel better just sitting in quiet room doing nothing, or listening to white noise - whatever it is that allows you to take some space away from stress and give you some perspective is meditation.
See our page on Mindfulness for more information.
Exercise not only strengthens your body, it strengthens your mind. It's like armor against stress. It doesn't even have to be intense exercise. Ten minute walks have serious stress-relieving benefits.
If there's a particularly stressful incident, do your best to get in some exercise soon after. Of course, that shouldn't be the only time you engage in some kind of physical activity. A bike ride, jogging, a brisk walk, swimming, tennis - all of these build up your resistance to stress. Whatever triggered the rise of stress will still be with you, but you'll find yourself better able to deal with the memory. The purpose is not to forget, but to live with what happened, and perhaps even learn and grow from it.
See our page The Importance of Exercise for more information.
It almost sounds too simple, but just being thankful for what you have can go a long way toward reducing stress in your life.
As a dispatcher, you're going to run into a whole lot of the negative side of life, and this can lead to feelings over overwhelming bleakness. It's easy to forget about the good things in life. Remind yourself by writing a list about the good things you have in your life, particularly the good things about being a dispatcher. Those who work in the emergency response field have helped saved more than one life.
The list should include more than just work. Friends, family, even your favorite hobbies, are all good things to think about and remind you about how great life can be.
For more about the importance of gratitude see our page - Gratitude.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life
Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.
A Sense of Balance
In the end, it comes to learning how to balance all the components that make up our day-to-day lives: home, work, and recreation. If you don't have the right mix of each, you're going to start to feel it, most likely in the form of stress. Remember, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.
About the Author
Emily has been writing about business topics for many years, and currently writes on behalf of the call center software specialists at Kova Corp.
In her spare time, she cheers for Carolina Crown, formulates her own sodas, and crushes tower defense games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen