May 21, 2024

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Critical Incident Stress: Key Takeaways

Gordon Graham
Category: Public Safety

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today I want to talk about a subject that affects everyone in public safety: critical incident stress. 

We all know stress comes with the job. What we don’t necessarily know is how to deal with the impact of a traumatic event.

Following a critical incident, you may experience strong emotional or physical reactions. For years, we were taught to hide our emotions. You know, “stiff upper lip” and all that nonsense. Then some of us proceeded to drown our sorrows in abusive behaviors like drinking too much alcohol, overeating, or losing emotional control.

The signs and symptoms of critical incident stress can be physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. The key is to recognize them.

Let’s start by understanding that the signs and symptoms of stress reactions can be physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. The key is to recognize them. Fatigue, nausea, headaches, confusion, heightened or lowered alertness, and poor concentration. Don’t forget about guilt, grief, depression, and loss of appetite. This isn’t a comprehensive list, folks. There are many more. And they are all normal reactions to an abnormal event.

The message here is simple: If you aren’t your “normal” self after a traumatic event, then you may be experiencing one or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

The actions you take within the first couple of days after the event are critical. Exercise, eat well, try to keep busy, get ample sleep, and talk to your peers. Don’t overuse alcohol or drugs. Don’t make any big life changes. And most importantly, allow yourself time to feel lousy.

When you take these steps, the symptoms of critical incident stress will usually subside with time. However, it’s important to know that out of the blue, something may trigger a memory of the event. This could cause you to relive it all over again. If things become difficult to manage, don’t hesitate to obtain professional assistance. There’s no shame in counseling. Whether immediately after the event or further on down the road, it can help you get your life back.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Until next time, Gordon Graham signing off.

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