When unexpected, traumatic events occur, it is normal to have strong reactions. Sometimes these appear immediately after the event, and sometimes they don’t evidence themselves for several days, weeks, or even months. While unpleasant, these reactions are normal and usually temporary, leaving no long-term effects on the individual experiencing them. The following alterations to your normal state may last from a few days to a few weeks.

EMOTIONAL

PHYSICAL

COGNITIVE

BEHAVIORAL

Anxiety

Fear

Loss of confidence

Numbness

Uncertainty

Apathy

Sadness

Depression

Excessive worry

Anger

Irritability

Guilt

Grief

Disbelief

Distress

Fatigue

Restlessness

Headaches

Muscle Ache

Digestive distress

Changes in libido

Rapid Breathing*

Chest tightness*

Sleep disturbance

Profuse sweating

Diarrhea

Tachycardia*

Thirst

Easily startled

Trembling hands

Forgetfulness

Confusion

Disorientation

Distractibility

Impaired memory

Concentration

Reviewing of previous trauma

Intrusive thoughts

Intrusive images

Numbing of responses

Suspiciousness

Nightmares

Hyper-vigilance

Isolating

Withdrawal

Increase use EtOH

Restless agitation

Impulsive acts

Interpersonal conflicts

Changes in eating, sleeping, sexual behavior

Increased risk taking

Avoidance

Inability to rest

Change in social activity

*Any of these symptoms may indicate the need for medical evaluation.

When in doubt contact your medical provider.

 

While each of these can be an unexpected or unwelcome response to crisis, there are things to try that may be useful in reducing the impact of the event and it’s aftermath. Many of these activities can help to restore function and wellbeing in the aftermath of a critical incident.

  1. Remember, you are a normal person experiencing normal reactions to a highly abnormal event.
  1. While alcohol may temporarily mask the initial symptoms of stress, the use of alcohol or other substances will delay the normal recovery process overall.
  1. Within the first 24-48 hours periods of moderate physical activity can be very helpful and will help to aid sleep, digestion, and mood regulation.
  1. Make sure you are eating regularly. The healthier your choices the better you will feel. Increase water consumption and avoid excessive caffeine.
  1. Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the most important factors in returning to normal pre-incident functioning. If you experience sleep disturbance for more than two or three days please consult your medical provider or your debriefing clinician.
  1. Reach out. People do care. Nurture and maintain your relationships by talking; talk is the most healing medicine.
  1. Maintain as normal a schedule as possible. Returning to activities you’ve previously found engaging or relaxing is a good way to engage the brain in non-trauma focus.
  1. Talking to your significant other, friends, or trusted associates about what you are experiencing help put the aftermath of a critical incident in perspective. You are not alone.
  1. Realize that those around you are under stress, too. Give yourself permission to feel rotten but don’t assume that your loved ones know what you are experiencing. Educate them.
  1. Do make as many daily decisions as possible that will restore your sense of control over your life. Don’t make any big life decisions or changes.
  1. Don’t try to fight the intrusive and recurring thoughts, dreams, or images – they are a normal way for the brain to process what has just occurred. They will decrease over time and become less painful.
  1. Remind yourself that you are first responder not a magician. We cannot change anyone else. We cannot alter the reality of the incident we have just endured. We can only change the way we relate and react to them.
  1. Seek help if you find your responses intensifying or becoming too intrusive in your life. Pay attention when your family or friends report that you are different.