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Critical incidents and trauma

What are critical incidents?

Critical incidents are any extraordinary and unexpected circumstances that may cause a traumatic reaction. Examples of critical incidents include events such as:

  • disasters
  • wars
  • death (actual or threatened)
  • vehicle accidents
  • assaults – physical, sexual or psychological being threatened with harm
  • being witness to an event that caused someone harm.

What are trauma responses?

Trauma responses are normal reactions to extraordinary and unexpected circumstances. Your body automatically responds to the event the best way it can. It will protect you from overload and may shut down in different ways. You may experience a range of emotions and thoughts that are unexplainable and at times feel out of control.

It is quite normal for people to experience emotional aftershocks when they have passed through a horrible event. Examples of common experiences are:

  • increased anxiety or fear
  • irritability or restlessness
  • sadness, moodiness or more crying than usual
  • helplessness or hopelessness
  • numbness or detachment
  • intrusive thoughts, nightmares or flashbacks
  • difficulty concentrating and remembering
  • withdrawing from or avoiding others
  • sleep difficulties
  • startled response

Quick tips

Research indicates that 85% of people who experience a traumatic event will find their own means of recovering without the need of professional assistance. These people have identified the following strategies as useful in their recovery:

  • Talk to someone you trust. This may be a friend, family member but don't face things alone. Getting support early may avoid further distress later on.
  • Manage your sleep so that you have adequate rest.
  • Take time to do things you enjoy that relaxes you and allows your body to respond to its changing needs: i.e. cry when you need to, direct angry feelings by going to the gym for a workout or spending time with your friends.
  • Take some time and gradually begin to return to normal routines.
  • You need to manage your general stress levels during this time. Be aware that reactions may be more intense at pressure times during the year.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drug use
  • If your traumatic responses continue interfering with you everyday life for more than two weeks, it is recommended that you seek professional help.

Taking it further

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