In a previous column, I wrote what I imagined would be the perfect advertisement for an emergency dispatcher. If you saw yourself and your co-workers in that ad, there’s a reason: Most emergency dispatchers share what psychologists call a “Type A Behavior Pattern.”[i] If you’re Type A, you’re likely to be competitive and goal-driven. You push yourself hard and are a superb multitasker. Anything less than perfection in your work is unacceptable. You’re also hypercritical, intolerant of the failings of others, and quick to display anger. Fortunately, when several Type A emergency dispatchers are in the same room, despite occasional conflicts they usually work well together because they tend to live up to each other’s standards.
But figuratively, it’s a double-edged sword. The very traits that make us highly successful can also work against us. Typically, we refuse to accept failure in ourselves and refuse to quit. Those are admirable traits when a major incident causes the call load to surge, but when we do get a chance to take a break, we don’t. Three days before I wrote this, I watched a fellow emergency dispatcher experience a mini-meltdown from stress. Yet when it slowed down and I suggested she step away and take a break, she wouldn’t.
Some dispatchers thrive on stress, up to a point. Some stress is good. If a busy day challenges or motivates you it can be physically and mentally beneficial. But once it stops being fun, the stress goes from good to bad. That’s when a break is needed. Type A emergency dispatchers, listen up: Drop the I-don’t-need-a-break mindset. When you can, get up and get away from your position. Even better, if you’re allowed, go outside. And not for a cigarette, either. (Do you really want to inhale all those cancer-causing chemicals?) If it’s warm out, soak up some sun and enjoy life outside for a few minutes. As the expression goes: Stop and smell the roses.
And smelling the roses isn’t just an expression. Your brain reacts to certain smells. Specifically, they trigger reactions within the limbic system, the area of the brain involved with instinct, mood, and emotions. Some people take advantage of this through essential oils, the highly concentrated chemical compounds distilled or pressed from the seeds, bark, roots, flowers, and other parts of certain plants. Not to be confused with perfumes, just a few drops of these highly aromatic compounds are enough when applied to the skin and the resultant aroma is inhaled deeply. [ii] Some, like rosemary, combat mental exhaustion. Others can trigger stress reduction and feelings of relaxation and well-being. (Ylang-ylang is reputed to be especially effective for stress-induced anger. What could be better?)
Plant-based remedies are thousands of years old, yet still not fully understood. And if you’re skeptical, consider the classic cup of black tea. A 2009 University College London study[iii] found clear stress-reducing benefits from the drink beloved by so many dispatchers. (It’s not the caffeine, so coffee drinkers shouldn’t feel smug.)
There are many other ways to reduce stress in and after the moment. They can be as advanced as progressive muscle relaxation or as simple as squeezing a stress ball. Find an effective and healthy practice that works for you, and then actually practice it. Stop talking about how stressful the job is, and do something about it. Don’t just say “I should.” Your body will thank you. So will your co-workers!
[i] Formerly referred to as a “Type A Personality”. For more information see https://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-a.html
[ii] This article is for information only. Anyone interested in exploring the potential benefits of essential oils should consult a reputable source for more information, including their safe use, and consult with a physician if necessary.
[iii]“Black Tea Soothes Stress”: www.ucl.ac.uk/media/library/tea