One of the most important populations a counselor can serve is those who are on the front lines of difficult situations where emotional and mental issues are common. This includes police officers, firefighters, nurses and doctors, our own counselors, and pastors. With the coronavirus pandemic happening right now, the mental health field undoubtedly will see a significant spike even beyond the already projected increase in domestic violence, child abuse, trauma from hospitalization, grief from loss, divorce, and substance use cases due to shelter-in-place, deaths from COVID-19, and the need for quaritine.
But to be able to serve these frontline individuals and first-responders, they need to be aware they are struggling. Whether it is because of secondary trauma or seeing traumatic events, you need to know the signs where you may need to seek counseling. This is specifically for those who are emotionally charged, mentally exhausting, trauma filled work environments.
- You seem to have less empathy or people make comments you are more annoyed
This is different than point 6 below with anger, instead, you find your demeanor has changed. Sometimes people are not aware of these changes in themselves but others notice you have a harsher tone, your body language is different, or your decision making is less empathic. Some have even stated it is to a point of feeling numb. These are signs of possible emotional disturbance or trauma.
- Your sleep and appetite have changed for the worse
Whether you find you need more and more sleep, can’t fall asleep, find yourself eating significantly more, or go the whole day without an appetite, if you find these changes to become reoccurring or permanent, this might be time to evaluate if you need to look into counseling.
- You can’t hold back the tears
Whether it is because our carrots from lunch fell on the floor, we hear a kid become annoyed at something trivial, or are given a new task that we were not ready for, something sends us to tears. When we’re exhausted both physically and mentally, we pretty much lose the strength to cope with challenging situations, and regular day-to-day stress is intensified. It’s totally understandable that you’ve probably found yourself crying in front of colleagues, friends, or even random strangers.
- You isolate or respond differently in crowds
If you find yourself wanting to stay home and away from people, calling off work because you just need a day to your self but do it numerous times, or avoid important activities like going grocery shopping and movies because of the crowds of people, you may be struggling with depressive or trauma symptoms.
- You find yourself being exhausted or lacking motivation
When you experience too much stressors or feel depressed, it does not matter how much sleep or exercise you get, how much extra self-care you have. You may feel exhausted, wanting to stay in bed, cancel appointments, and avoid activities you normally would do. Coffee or a nap does not fix this.
- You are irritable frequently and/or intensely
Everyone gets angry, but we are talking about beyond your baseline. A significant symptom includes if you are one that does not normally get frustrated and now you find yourself screaming at the little things or you find yourself upset most days much more frequently than normal.
- You seem to be easily distracted and lose things
This one is a hard one because we always lose something at some point and does not mean we are emotionally drained. But you find a pattern of unable to focus, distractibility, responding to outside stimuli, and cannot focus way too much. If this happens to you, take a minute to do an emotional inventory to see if you may need to seek help.
- Nightmares, flashbacks, or dissociation
These are three classic symptoms of trauma, where the traumatic event seems to mess with your mind and you relive it in your dreams or while awake certain sounds, smells, or places cause you to experience the trauma again. Dissociation is when you have gaps in your memory because something is too extreme to remember or you feel like it was someone else that lived that specific memory. These are important things to go over a counselor with.
- You have panic attacks
Whether it is because of an outward stimulus or your own thoughts, you find yourself with immediate and uncontrollable shortness of breath, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, tightness in your chest, nausea, headache, flushed body heat, and/or feeling of loss of control, you may be having a panic attack. Some times people mistake this for a heart attack or an allergic reaction and you should seek out medical assistance. If a doctor finds it to be a panic attack, seek mental health.
- You feel hopeless and helpless. Everything feels gray.
This is a classic concern for people who are depressed. You begin to ask the question, “what’s the point?” or “does anyone care?” You wonder if you are actually making a difference, you feel insignificant, having lost control, or unable to feel much of anything. Please seek out help.