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DEALING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF A CRITICAL EVENT


A Focus on the Impact on First Responders When we experience a threatening event, our bodies automatically respond in a way that allows us to protect ourselves or escape from the situation. This fight or flight involves an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and breathing rate. All these changes help us to physically deal with danger or leave the situation very quickly if necessary. During a critical or traumatic incident this reaction will be very strong. The common reactions experienced may include:

  • Shock

  • Disbelief

  • Numbness

  • Intense fear

  • Anger

  • Confusion

  • Pounding heart

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Sweating

  • Excitement

  • Nausea

  • Fast breathing

It is normal to continue to experience a number of invasive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours for a number of days or even weeks after the traumatic event. These reactions can be distressing and are a sign that you are recovering from severe stress. Some prolonged emotions that may be experienced after a traumatic event include: Fear: Of a recurrence For the safety of one’s family

Seemingly unrelated fears Being easily startled Anger: At what happened and the senselessness of it all

At who “caused it to happen” General irritability Shame: For having appeared helpless

For not behaving as you would have liked For being better off than others Sadness: About the losses

About the feelings of safety and security Feeling depressed for no reason Sleep disturbances: Difficulty getting to sleep because of intrusive thoughts

Restlessness, awake often during the night Dreams and nightmares about what happened Feeling tired all the time Memories: Flashbacks: “reliving” the event Thoughts of other frightening events

Preoccupation with and frequent thoughts of the event Confusion: Difficulty making simple decisions Not concentrating Physical: Muscle tension, trembling or shaking, headaches,

Diarrhoea or constipation, sweating, nausea. Social: Withdrawal from others and a need to be alone

Easily irritated by other people Feeling of detachment Avoiding any situation that may remind you of the event

Loss of interest in normal activities

Not wanting to go to work Habits: Increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs

Loss of appetite or increased eating

Loss of interest in enjoyable activities

Loss of sexual interest Relationships: Sometimes strains and tensions can appear with workmates, partners, family and friends.

You may find it challenging to talk about what you have been through

You may not want to burden others with your problems

You may not think they are as understanding as you would like them to be Changes in your behaviour may worry or annoy them What to do immediately after a traumatic event:

  • Make sure you are with people. Do not go home to an empty house.

  • Talk about the incident with others.  Talking will help you get over the reaction.

  • Remind yourself that the event is over and that you are now safe. If possible get some physical exercise. This will help “burn off” the adrenalin.

  • Don’t over use alcohol or other drugs. Try to eat something, even if you don’t feel like it.

  • If you can’t sleep, get up and do something until you feel tired.

How to Handle the Next Few Days:

  • Don’t be hard on yourself. Remember your reactions are a normal result of trauma and will pass in time.

  • Try to get back into your normal routine as soon as possible.

  • If you feel scared, or anxious, take some long, slow breaths and remind yourself that you are safe.

  • Be kind to yourself, you deserve it.

  • Try to accept support from others, even if you feel a bit distant.

  • Give yourself permission to feel “rotten” for a while.

  • Accidents are more common after severe stress so take care.

  • Try to get adequate sleep, a good diet and regular exercise.

  • Practice relaxation to reduce nervous tension.

  • Allow yourself time to deal with the memories.

  • Some may be challenging to forget.

  • Seek professional support Originally published by Counselling Connection. All Rights Reserved

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