First, we need to understand WHY we are feeling this way.

The crap that YOU experience in your daily life is challenging. Add in to that the junk you see every day in your job and this feeling is compounded 100% (or 1000%, 10,000%, 100,000%, well, you get the idea).

Workplace stress impacts individuals across all professions and environments. This stress is further compounded by individual/familial (i.e. relationships, adverse health, finances, transportation, etc.), community stressors (i.e. environmental concerns, access to healthcare, food deserts, community transportation, etc.) and global health crises (i.e. COVID-19/SARS, influenza, TB, etc.).

According to many sources, healthcare and first responder professionals are at a significantly greater risk for this stress as there is a desire to manage things beyond their control which often leads to feeling overwhelmed, fatigued, and even helpless.

So what? We are all screwed up, right?

Let’s uncover what stress actually looks like.

The first responder and health care professions have a longstanding culture that espouses a type of “heroism” and invulnerability. But the idea that the suffering, trauma, and dilemmas that clinicians face have little or no effect on their well-being is highly misguided. We are human, yet that aspect has historically been disregarded our cultures. One of the most most difficult barriers to seeking help is mental health stigma. It’s essential to normalize seeking help as a sign of strength and not weakness. Creating a culture of psychological safety is essential for the health care workforce. Peer support is a vehicle for cultural reform, overcoming stigma, and normalizing conversations about trauma (we will provide more insight into peer support later).

Stress affects everyone!

Perhaps you understand the impact of stress on your life. How it impacts you. How it wears on you. How is strains your physical health.

Perhaps you may not.

One thing we must understand is stress is a normal response to life changeseven positive ones. Stress is necessary to build strength. Most of our training is based on using stress in controlled situations to strengthen resilience. This is a form of posttraumatic growth. Everyone feels  stress sometimes. However, too much stress can interfere with daily life.

Some of the negative impacts of stress can include:

  • Physical problems (such as headaches, upset stomach or high blood pressure)
  • Poor concentration, trouble making decisions, problems remembering things
  • Feeling anxious, frustrated, angry or depressed

Stress Can Lead to Many Problems...such as BURNOUT

The GREEN Zone



The RED Zone

HEROs in the Green Zone adapt to cope with stressors and continue to function well. This is not the absence of stress but a mastery of it to enable effective functioning.
Signs of a Ready HERO:
• Remaining calm and steady
• Being confident in oneself and others
• Getting the job done
• Remaining in control physically, mentally and emotionally
• Behaving ethically and morally
• Sleeping enough
• Eating well and the right amount
• Working out and staying fit
• Retaining a sense of humor
• Playing well and often
• Remaining active socially and
• Being at peace with oneself

HEROs in the Yellow Zone feel mild and temporary distress or loss of function due to stress. Yellow Zone
reactions are always temporary and reversible and are common, usually in response to something new. All training enhances skills and abilities through repeated exposure to intentionally stressful situations.
Yellow Zone reactions can be recognized by their short duration and relative mildness. Signs of Stress Reaction:
• Feeling anxious or fearful
• Feeling sad or angry
• Worrying
• Cutting corners on the job
• Being short tempered or mean
• Being irritable or grouchy
• Having trouble falling asleep
• Eating too much or too little
• Losing some interest, energy or
• Not enjoying usual activities
• Keeping to oneself
• Being overly loud or hyperactive
• Being negative or pessimistic
• Diminished mental focus.

The Orange or “Injured” Zone has more severe and persistent forms of distress or loss of function, signaling
some kind of damage to the mind, brain or spirit. Yellow Zone reactions tend to resolve once the stress ends,
but Orange Zone injuries are like a break when bent beyond limits. Like physical injuries, stress injuries
occur from the barely noticeable to the more serious that may not heal
without professional treatment. Stress injuries may be recognized in their early stages by the severity of the return to the fight. Those exposed to adverse events in the job (i.e. code blue, trauma, violence, frequently known patients,  etc.) will react in some way
(Yellow Zone). Pay close attention to these four stressors that tend to
cause stress injuries (Orange Zone): Life threat. An immediate threat to your own life; Loss. The death of close peers, leaders or other cared-for individuals; Inner conflict. Carrying out or bearing witness to acts or failures to act that do not align with your beliefs; Wear and tear. Lack of sleep, rest and restoration, and the accumulated effects of smaller stressors over time, such as from non-operational sources.

Signs of a Stress INJURY may include:

  • Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep 
  • Waking up from recurrent, vivid nightmares
  • Feeling persistent, intense guilt or shame
  • Feeling unusually remorseless or emotionally cold
  • Experiencing attacks of panic or blind rage
  • Losing the ability to remember or think rationally and clearly
  • Being unable to enjoy usually pleasurable activities
  • Losing confidence in previously held moral values 
  • Displaying a significant and persistent change in behavior or appearance

Red is the zone of diagnosable
mental disorders (i.e. burnout, PTSD, etc.) in individuals exposed to workplace or other operational stressors. Red Zone illnesses are clinical mental disorders that are diagnosed by mental health professionals. Still department/ organizational leaders, peers, and family members should be aware of the signs of stress illnesses so they can identify them and make appropriate referrals as soon as possible. The most widely recognized stress illness is posttraumatic stress (PTS), but stress illnesses may take many different forms, often occurring at the same time in individuals. Other common Red Zone illnesses include depressive disorders, especially major depression; anxiety disorders to include generalized anxiety and panic disorder; substance abuse or dependence. Signs of Stress Illness:
• Long-lasting and disabling
distress or impairment of normal
• Impairment that does not
significantly improve within
several weeks of returning from normal work activities
• Symptoms that worsen over time rather than improve
• Problems and issues that return after improving or seeming to resolve