Critical Incident: Remember, Common effects: A critical incident is a relatively sudden, • People react differently to traumatic events. • Nightmares, Insomnia; Flashback untimely and unanticipated event or situation They also progress through the effects of • Intrusive thoughts of the incident; which is outside the range of usual human critical incident stress at different rates. • ‘what if’s?’ experience and which evokes unusually strong Symptoms experienced may vary. • Difficulties in concentration and memory emotional reactions which have the potential to • Accept your own feelings and reactions to • Regression to earlier behaviours interfere with one’s ability to function at the time the incident as well as those of others. There • Apathy, no energy the situation arises or later. is no wrong or right way to feel or think. • Inability to feel Your reactions are valid. • Decreased sexual interest, impotency Many people experience a critical incident at • Most people do the best that they can at the • Outbursts of aggression; Violent impulses some stage of their life. Sometimes a trauma may time of a critical incident. Don’t take too • Irritability; Hostility, rage be experienced indirectly, eg as a bystander, or much responsibility for the incident or the • Anxiety where friends or family are victims. way it went. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. • Startle reactions; hyperalertness • You have experienced or witnessed a • Restlessness This leaflet is designed to help you to understand traumatic event which no doubt will affect • Shock or denial; Numbness the typical reactions of others who have been in you in some way. Be aware that symptoms • Fear; Guilt; Grief traumatic situations. It will give you some may develop. Be alert to the signs of critical • Feelings of detachment from others guidance in taking care of yourself so that incident stress in your general functioning. • Sadness, depression recovery can be facilitated. • Mistrust • Phobias At the time of the incident you may have felt • Avoidance of reminders of the incident, of stunned or frozen, or felt that your sense of time people or places connected to the incident was distorted or your perceptions very focused. You might have been angry, anxious or Effects on attitudes: frustrated Afterwards it is common to feel numb, Effects of Critical Incident Stress in shock, unable to believe what occurred. • A heightened sense of concern for the Gradually the impact of the incident is felt, and Symptoms usually begin immediately or soon • Well-being of loved ones the numbness wears off. At this time, you may after the trauma. Sometimes symptoms are • Feelings of hopelessness and a sense of loss experience intrusive thoughts of the incident, delayed for a period of months or in some cases of control of one’s life sleep is often disturbed, perhaps with nightmares, even years after the incident although avoidance • A sense of a foreshortened future or you may experience ‘flashbacks’ where symptoms might have been present during this • Loss of trust in others, or in a God aspects of the event recur in imagination so period. • Loss of a sense of self as a worthwhile vividly, you feel as if you are reliving the trauma. person; as invulnerable and immortal Self-doubts and ‘what if’s?’ are common. All • A sense that the world has changed; that it reactions are part of your body’s efforts to come is not just or fair. to terms with what you have experienced, part of • Common concerns seem trivial the natural process to recovery. Talking to people that understand, whether friends, family, partner, counsellors, chaplains, colleagues or fellow survivors helps process the incident and provides emotional relief. Physical Responses: • Keep up some social contact. • Eat regular, balanced meals even if you Nausea, vomiting Diarrhoea don’t feel hungry. Dizziness Fatigue Memories of what you have experienced Counselling • Heart palpitations Rapid heart beat will fade with time. Don’t have unrealistic Shaking, trembling Sweating expectations that they will disappear early. Menstrual Loss of appetite • Check on friends or colleagues who shared dysfunction Muscular tension, Chest pain (check the experience with you. You may be having a good day and can be supportive. They can do the same for you at another Service headaches, aching with your GP) neck and back pain time. Shortness of breath, Frequent low grade • Remember, you are not going crazy. Difficulty breathing, infections • Remember, help is available if you find that you are feeling too much pain. HOW TO COPE Coping with the effects of critical incident • Remember that there is always hope, and that the world is waiting for you to get back WITH THE EFFECTS stress into it. • Remember that these reactions will lessen in When to seek help OF CRITICAL time; they are normal reactions to extreme stress. • If numbness persists and you continue to feel INCIDENT STRESS • Keep, or return to, your usual routine as detached from life. much as possible. Structure your time. • If you feel overwhelmed by intense emotions • Talk to family and friends; share your or physical symptoms. Camperdown Campus Counselling feelings and your concerns. This helps the • If your relationships are deteriorating as a Service healing process. result of your experience. Level 7 – Education Building, A35 • Don’t have rules about your progress, just go • If you are abusing alcohol or drugs. with how you feel. • If nightmares or flashbacks persist. Telephone: (02) 9351 2228 • Avoid over-use of alcohol and drugs. • If intrusive thoughts persist and are E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org • Get some exercise or relaxation daily. discomforting. • Do something pleasant for yourself from • If you cannot get on with the job after a www.usyd.edu.au/counsel time-to-time. reasonable period. • Take some time and space to work through • If you are unable to discuss, express or share the event. your experiences, perhaps because you have Cumberland Campus Counselling Service • Sometimes jotting down thoughts helps to no social supports. Ground floor, A Block process your experience cognitively as well Telephone: (02) 9351 9638 as emotionally. Prepared by Wendy McCartney for the E-mail: CS_Cumberland@fhs.usyd.edu.au Delay making major decisions or life changes at Counselling Service, University of Sydney this time; however making smaller day-to-day Student Services: decisions increases your feeling of control over www.usyd.edu.au/stuserv life.