Critical Incident Stress

Critical Incident Stress & Chronic Stress in journalists is very real. Understanding the signs and symptoms and what to do is important for yourself and your peers. Asking for help is a huge sign of personal strength!

There are several ways in which trauma and stress may impact your life. It can come from: A critical incident (a single event), Long-term exposure to extreme events or trauma, Vicarious traumatization- interviewing or being exposed to others who were traumatized.

Burnout- even events that might not be considered traumatic may lead to a sense of incapacity and an inability to deal with perceived demands over time. Compassion Fatigue-The convergence of primary traumatic stress, secondary traumatic stress, and cumulative stress / burnout.

A critical incident can be defined as any event that has a stressful impact sufficient enough to overwhelm the usually effective coping skills of an individual. Critical incidents are abrupt, powerful events that fall outside the range of ordinary human experiences.

AFTER a CRITICAL INCIDENT: How to handle the next few days: Within the first few days, periods of strenuous exercise alternated with relaxation will alleviate some of the physical reactions. Structure your time-keep busy. Keep your lives as normal as possible. You’re normal and having normal reactions- don’t label yourself crazy. Talk to people- talk is the most healing medicine. Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol, don’t complicate this situation with a substance abuse problem.

Reach out- people DO care. Spend time with others.Help your co-workers as much as possible by sharing feelings and checking out how they’re doing. Give yourself permission to feel rotten and share your feelings with others.Keep a journal- write your way through those sleepless hours. Do things that feel good to you. Realize those around you are under stress. Good nutrition is essential- eat smart even if you are not hungry. Don’t make any big life changes.Do make as many daily decisions as possible, which will give you a feeling of control over your life. (even if you’re not sure)

Tips for FOR OTHERS: Realize that your loved one has experienced an emotionally charged event, often known as a critical incident. He/she may experience normal stress response to such an event. No one is immune to critical incident stress and it affects many who are exposed to a critical incident. Critical incident stress response can occur right at the scene, within hours, within days, or even within weeks. Please ask them to share the handout that outlines some of the signs of critical incident stress.

Your loved one may experience a variety of signs/symptoms or they may not feel any of these at all.  Encourage, but do not pressure, your loved one to talk about the incident and his/her reaction to it. Talk is the best medicine.

Your “job” is to listen and reassure. Remember that if an event is upsetting to you and your loved one, your children may be affected, also. They may need to talk too. You may not understand what your loved one is going through at this time, but offer your love and support. Don’t be afraid to ask what you can do that he/she would consider helpful. These symptoms will normally subside and disappear in time. If the signs of stress your loved one is experiencing do not begin to subside after a few weeks or if they intensify, consider seeking further assistance.

PHYSICAL REACTIONS: Fatigue, Insomnia,  which may turn in to hypersomnia (too much sleeping) Under-activity. Health problems: change in appetite, headaches, digestive problems, grinding teeth, chills, dizziness, thirst Nightmares, Hyperactivity, Exhaustion.  Startle reactions.

COGNITIVE REACTIONS:Difficulty with concentrationDifficulty solving problems. Flashbacks; may follow a trigger events. Difficulties making decisionsMemory disturbance, Isolating, Inability to attach importance to anything other than this incident.

EMOTIONAL REACTIONS Sadness, Fear, Guilt, Emotional NumbingOver-sensitivity, Anxiety, DepressionFeelings of helplessness, Amnesia for eventAnger; may manifest itself as: scapegoating, irritability with bureaucracy.

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255  or visit .

The  @RTDNA has an amazing page of mental health resources. Book mark this page, you never know when you or a colleague might need it!