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If you have just participated in a critical incident, you have been exposed to sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, or work demands that exceed normal working conditions or life experiences. Even though the event is over, you may find yourself continuing to experience reactions for several days. Some normal reactions include:

PHYSICAL                              THINKING                               EMOTIONAL                              SPIRITUAL

Adrenalin rush                       In a fog                                    All stirred up                              Loss of innocence

Rapid Breathing                    Indecision                               Numb                                          Loss of meaning

Tremors                                  Memory Loss                        Anxiety/Fear                              Loss of direction

Upset stomach                     Difficulty concentrating       Sadness/depression                Thoughts of mortality

Sweating/Chills                    Confusion                               Embarrassed                             Emptiness, doubt, apathy

Cardiac symptoms              Difficulty problem solving   Isolated, alienated                    Cynicism, unforgiving

Head and muscle aches    Distressing dreams              Guilt                                              Feelings the you don't belong

Dizziness                              Images you cant forget        "Shoulda, Coulda"                      Casting Blame

Sleep disturbance              Disorientation                         Anger, Irritability                         Feeling Abandoned

Sexual Dysfunction            Hyper-vigilance                      Hopelessness                            Loss of faith

These signs and symptoms are normal and although painful, are part of the normal healing process and will usually disappear within a few days. Less often, such incidents may cause a more prolonged stress reaction. Research suggests that this occurs about 19% of the time in emergency service personnel, depending on certain variables in the incident. On the back of the page, there is a list of things that you can do to help minimize the symptoms. If stress symptoms last more than four weeks, contact EAP, a mental health professional or an advocate for referral.





1. Handle the adrenaline rush symptoms:

     a.Consciously relax muscles in shoulders, arms, legs and gut hourly over the next 12 hours.

     b.Consciously breathe deeply (diaphragmatic breathing), making your exhalation longer than your inhalation, each hour for the next 12 hours.

     c.Aerobic activity is helpful.

     d.Eat small, frequent meals, high in protein.

     e.Excessive caffeine, excessive sugar or alcohol will worsen the feeling of agitation and lead to a crash. Alcohol will worsen any depressed                         feelings in the long run. Abstain from using these, at least for the next several days.

2.Return to your routine schedule as soon as you can. A familiar routine helps anchor you while your thoughts and emotions are settling down.

3.Rest a bit more. If you find that you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep (and you didn’t previously have this trouble) take note: worrying about it won’t help you sleep! If you can’t sleep after 15 minutes, get out of bed and do something quiet and boring until you are sleepy. If sleep disruption remains a problem four weeks after the incident, or if it worsens, seek help (See below).

4.Talk to family, friends, a chaplain or minister or to co-workers you trust; the more you talk about the incident the sooner it will be over in your mind and body.


•Reoccurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are not necessarily abnormal. They can be your minds way of incorporating what has happened. Try to relax through them and allow them to pass without fighting them. They should decrease over several weeks. If not, seek help.

•If you were feeling stressed or had difficult worries before the incident, your feelings about these and your attempts to cope with them may worsen with the effects of the incident. Now would be a good time to talk with someone about these stresses.

If any of the symptoms on the other side of this page are very bothersome, worsen or do not improve in four weeks, seek additional assistance by contacting your Employee Assistance Provider, a mental health professional or an advocate at 303.679.2426.

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