Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Recent Posts

Visit the Your Reliable Source Blog page

‘How do I work in this stress and then go home to more stress.’

First responders need resilience support—especially during COVID-19.

COVID-19 is changing our world. The stress associated with the disease is here to stay, too. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department wants to help you cope with the new normal of COVID-19.

Seven long months into the pandemic, we all need to remind ourselves it’s OK to struggle. It’s OK to take time to care for ourselves. It’s OK to reach out and ask for help.

All of us feel stressed. First responders are people, too. They have the added stress of caring for the sick or injured or responding to violent events or people in crisis. Add to this the fear of bringing COVID-19 home to loved ones, changing safety protocols, new procedures, and other safety concerns. Work looks much different than it did in January. Many first responders experience what’s known as “compassion fatigue.”

If you are a first responder, COVID-19 makes an already stressful job even more challenging. The additional stress and fear can create an overwhelming variety of feelings that don’t go away easily. 

Daily stressors can be overwhelming for first responders—they have a tough job. The toll on their mental health can be great. Potential for feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration is high. Taking care of yourself can help you be better at your job, healthier for your loved ones, and help you recover from illness quicker.

Knowing your personal signs and symptoms of distress can help you recover quicker. Remember to watch out for these signs of compassion fatigue: 

  • Trouble sleeping (nervous system arousal).
  • Increased emotional intensity.
  • Impaired behavior and judgment.
  • Loss of morale.
  • Depression.
  • Increased anger and irritability.

Make sure to develop a personal safety plan so you can take steps to take a break, calm down, and get the rest you need. You have to take care of you so you can serve and support others. A personal safety plan can be a list of ways and ideas to help you cope during hard times. A plan also helps you identify your triggers to help you manage feelings during times of stress. 

For first responders, focusing on what you do well in your job builds resiliency during stressful times. Make space in your life to maintain positive relationships with others, check in with others, and be able to say “no” when things become overwhelming. These practices help you increase positive wellbeing and prevent burnout.

Seek out mental health resources and services early. It’s not a sign of weakness to have regular time set aside to talk to an objective person about the stresses, sadness, and frustrations of your job. It’s a sign of strength.

Staying strong during the pandemic.

Emergency responses are highly stressful. Not everyone reacts to stress in the same way. Physical and mental health demands challenge your well-being.

  • Self-care is important. Take breaks, get good rest and eat a balanced diet. It’s essential for you to take care of your own well-being before you can take care of others.
  • Ask for help early. Seek professional help as soon as you don’t feel mentally well, feel overwhelmed, or exhausted after rest.

If you or someone you know struggles with substance misuse, increased depression, anxiety, or is suicidal, call the Pierce County Crisis Line: (800) 576-7764.

Manage stress to reduce compassion fatigue:

  • Acknowledge tough situations and recognize your accomplishments, even small ones.
  • Identify opportunities to relieve stress in a positive way.
  • Acknowledge stress and discuss its impact on your life.
  • Talk with someone about your experiences.
  • Understand Secondary Traumatic Stress can happen anytime during or after a traumatic event. Stress reactions and symptoms can result from exposure to another person’s traumatic experiences, rather than direct exposure.

Your well-being is a priority.

Think about how you can build healthy habits into your daily life:

  • If possible, limit working or volunteering hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts.
  • Work in teams and limit the amount of time you work alone.
  • Talk to family, friends, supervisors, and teammates about your feelings and experiences.
  • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Know that it is OK to draw boundaries and say “no.”

It’s OK to reach out and ask for help.

Check with your agency’s human resources department to learn about your agency’s pathways for wellness, resiliency, and mental health. Most agencies have programs in place.

First responder specific resources:

  • COP Line:, (800) COPLINE (800-267-5463). Retired officers respond to this confidential hot line for law enforcement and their families.
  • Permission to Start Dreaming Foundation:, (253) 432-6502. Tools and training to enhance the mind, body, and spiritual well-being of veterans, first responders, and their family members. 
  • The Code 9 Project:, (844) HOPE-247 (844-467-3247). First responder PTSD and suicide prevention.

Washington Listens: The state Department of Health launched a support line called Washington Listens: (833) 681-0211. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday–Friday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekends. TTY and language access services are available. It’s a resource for people who are not in crisis but need an outlet to manage stress.

Suicide prevention lines: If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

Washington 2-1-1: This free confidential service connects callers with utility assistance, food, housing, health, childcare, after school programs, elder care, crisis intervention, and much more.

Other services:

For more, check out this blog on how first responders should take time to care for themselves. Also, see this blog on managing compassion fatigue.

Learn more about COVID-19 at

Police lights flash on top of a vehicle.