Trauma induced by a lifesaving rescue is often overlooked. Even with good outcomes the stress can stay with rescuers for quite some time. We asked Katy Griffin of Thera-sea for some top tips and advice.

Katy overseeing a stress management course.. Photo @piphambling

With a lack of lifeguards, some fair sized swell and sunny weather our coastlines have recently seen a vast rise in recuses being performed by general public and surfers who do not have the essential lifesaving experience and equipment that lifeguards would provide. 

Performing a lifesaving rescue at any point can have a lasting impact on us, physically, mentally and emotionally. Stress symptoms may affect your health without you even realising it as it’s symptoms can often be overlooked such as poor quality sleep, lack of concentration or motivation, headaches, lack of sex drive, changes in appetite (over or under eating) and irritability. 

Local beach lifeguard trainer and assessor for the RNLI and SLSGB, Mark Kelly states ‘The main role of a lifeguard is prevention, recognition and rescue as a last resort’ but without this guidance being readily available currently due to the lack of lifeguards around the British coastline there could continue to be an increase in people getting into difficulty in the sea. So if you find yourself performing a rescue here’s my top tips for looking after yourself.  

  • Talk through the day’s events with someone you trust

Often people who find themselves involved in a traumatic rescue want to forget about that day, which is understandable as this won’t be a pleasant memory. Unfortunately this is often where difficulties can start, as much as we want to forget about our difficult experiences our brains are too intelligent and won’t forget. This is why talking through the event with someone you trust or even someone who was with you at the event is so important to help us process this memory properly. Not all of these memories cause trauma later in life but they can cause problems for some. People can develop post-traumatic stress (PTSD) with debilitating effects. Our brains are designed to learn quickly from bad experiences and less so from good ones as a primal survival instinct. Traumatic memories can have a lasting effect while we can forget positive ones easily. Discussing a traumatic event with someone we trust and feel safe with helps us to disconnect from the painful emotions which causes distress.

  • Take time out to relax

After being in any highly stress situation our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) is triggered which is essential to help us respond in a crisis but often when the crisis is over we still remain in high alert. The best way to teach our bodies and our brain that the crisis has now ended is by practising relaxation techniques such as breathing, yoga, hiking, reading a book, taking a hot bath or whatever helps you to install inner clam. It’s important to avoid alcohol or illicit substances as these do not help to manage stress in the long term. They both affect the central nervous system process which interferes with our neurotransmitters (which we need for good mental health). Also while alcohol and illicit substances help with stress in the short term they are undoubtedly an avoidance strategy and do not help to combat the root cause of your stress. 

  • Exercise

Most people know that exercise is a great way to alleviate stress; my recommendation would be to choose a sport or exercise that isn’t high intensity when experiencing stress symptoms (as this can trigger our stress response). Try to surf well within your capability and maybe choose a hike or gentle jog instead of an ultra-marathon until the stress response symptoms start to subside.

  • Spend time with good friends and family

There’s a lot to be said for your support network when overcoming any difficult life experience. Surrounding yourself with people you trust and feel comfortable around, discuss your worries and put the world to rights. This can often be all the therapy you need.

  • Good sleep pattern

For most people when hey have experienced several nights poor sleep is when things really start to take their toll. Sleep is the most under prescribed medication of the 21st century; we should be getting 7-9 hours per night. Prioritise your sleep by getting into a relaxing routine before bed if you are struggling.  Many people believe that sleep is a time when our bodies stop and rest but it’s actually an important healing period where we solidify and consolidate memories, grow muscle, restore tissue and produce hormones, which is why we need good sleep for optimal health and well-being. 

If symptoms persist and do not improve in a week or two or you start to experience flashbacks (a sudden and powerful re-experiencing of a past event), make an appointment with your GP to discuss alternative support such a talking to a professional. 

Katy runs rewinding retreats where you can learn about stress and how to manage it in a fun setting swimming, kayaking, camping  and learning bushcraft. Pretty cool!

Main pic Nicky Willows