Self-care. It seems like it should be simple and something we should all be able to do. So, how do you manage to take care of yourself?
As a 911 telecommunicator, you often forgo holidays, weekends, vacations, sick days, family time, and a healthy work/life balance. The things you hear, say, and experience are unlike any other.
I remember my Sergeant telling us one day, “I was listening to the radio traffic from the accident yesterday. I listened to the 911 calls. There is no way that you all heard the things you heard, and said the things you said, and are okay.” She was trying to get us all to debrief. We were stubborn and tough. Why did we resist? Even now, I still do not understand why.
So rather than resist, take small steps. Here are a few self-care tips I wish I used when I was still dispatching, including some I wish I had suggested my co-workers do while I was supervising.
Breaks. Never skip these.
If you are fortunate enough to work for an agency that can allow breaks during your shift, take them. Take them out of the room if you can. Walk up and down the hall or sit in another space. Just be sure to step away from your console. Eat your meal without having to inhale it. Chew, taste, and swallow your food! It is a wonderful experience!
Escape. With a book (or a movie).
Read a book or watch a movie. Something that allows you to escape the harsh reality of day-to-day life. Even if it is only a few minutes before bed, allow yourself to unwind after your day.
Feel all the feels. Then move.
Allow yourself to have and express your feelings. It is okay to not be tough all the time. It is okay to break down when you need to, cry, or even scream. Doing just that allows you to release that any pain or trauma that builds up from your job.
Exercise is a great option and you’ll sweat out your stress. I used to do small sets of squats or jumping jacks every hour while working and it kept me strong and sane.
Breathing seems like an easy task. But I am not talking about breathing for survival that occurs naturally. I am talking about taking a few minutes to take some deep belly breaths and clear your head. Here are a few ways to incorporate breathing into your everyday routine.
Find fun on your days off.
On your days off, be truly off so you can completely disconnect. If you can, do not respond to work emails, calls, or texts. And do something fun! It can be with friends, family, co-workers, your pet, or all by yourself. Take a walk, cook a meal, people watch- whatever you need to decompress. Remember, you cannot be on 24/7 and maintain your mental and physical health. If you are burned out, it is easy to make mistakes.
Prioritize your health.
Speaking of health, do not neglect it. Get your regular physical screenings. Think of all the things you do for everyone else. What if you could not physically do them anymore? Who would? Your health is a priority.
Furry friends are good for your wellbeing.
As a huge dog fan, I can tell you that having a pet on tough days is a wonderful thing. If you can’t have a pet at home, go to your local rescue or animal shelter. They are usually begging for volunteers to work with the animals! Play with them, check them out for a day, or become a temporary foster. Take them on an adventure. It is good for your soul and even better for your blood pressure.
Seek out joy.
Finally, find joy no matter how big or small. I love to bake for others. When I was dispatching, I would make chocolate chip cookies and bring them to work, or a fire station, or the police precinct. It was a way to destress during the tougher moments of the job and bring some joy to others. Whether you love to cook, hike, read, or even enjoy organizing your closet, give yourself the time to do it! You deserve it.
As a telecommunicator, you come to work each day with the purpose of helping others. You are looking out for your colleagues, and connecting people with the help they need. So, remember every little step you take for yourself means you can continue to play the vital role you have in our world today.
P.S. Here’s my grandmother’s famous cookie recipe. There have been reports of officers trying to wrestle each other at major intersections for the last one.
Grandma Hernquist’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) Land o’ Lakes salted butter, softened (this exact ingredient is crucial)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or more if you like)
- 2 large eggs · 2 cups (12-ounce package) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoon, or use a cookie scoop, onto ungreased baking sheets, or stoneware pans (my personal favorite).
Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. (If using stoneware, the first batch will take longer to bake).
About the Author
Erin Winslow comes to PowerPhone with 20 years of experience in 911 call centers. Prior to that, she spent over five years volunteering for her local fire and emergency medical assistance agencies. She has been an Implementation Manager since 2020.