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Trauma Symptoms

Critical Incident Stress/Trauma Reactions

Critical Incident:

Any incident that is powerful enough to potentially overwhelm and dismantle the natural coping mechanisms of an individual. A Critical Incident usually is outside the range of a person’s ordinary experiences and natural coping tendencies; however it is not always subjectively experienced or perceived as traumatic to the individual. While all Traumas are classified as Critical Incidents, not all Critical Incidents are “Traumas”. The difference lies in the individual’s perception of the incident.

Types ofReactions:


Sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, headaches, migraines, nausea, weight gain/loss, sweating, chest pains, startled response, lower immune system, disorientation, dizziness, hyper-vigilance, tingling sensations, hyperactive, loss of breath – heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, muscle aches, temperature changes in the body, gastrointestinal upset, hyperactive.

Psychological Reactions:

Fear, anxiety, nervousness, survivor guilt, numbing out, dissociative, anger, denial, irritable, sadness, mistrust, guilt, mood swings, disbelief, inappropriate affect, confusion, memory loss, self blame, feelings of helplessness, isolated, inappropriate affect.

Cognitive Reactions:

Flashbacks, concentration difficulty, memory loss, shortened memory, disorganized thoughts, shattered beliefs, blaming others or self, unable to follow instructions, confusion, disoriented to time and place.

Behavioural Reactions:

Withdrawal from interpersonal relationships and / or social situations, fear of being alone, busyness, drinking alcohol, tearfulness, smoking cigarettes at increased rate, using drugs, being obsessive compulsive, suicide attempts, lack of personal care.

Spiritual Reactions:

Increase or decrease in spiritual beliefs, Bargaining, confusion, anger towards religious figure. Are these reactions “normal”? Absolutely, these are the reactions of a normal human being to an abnormal event or situation. Research shows that when you acknowledge these stress reactions and take care of them, they usually disappear within a few weeks.

Do these reactions always occur right after the event? Not always. Some individuals don’t experience these reactions until later, but this isn’t the case for most people. Whether these reactions occur right away or later they are generally experienced by almost everyone who goes through an abnormally stressful situation.

Is there any way to avoid these types of reactions? You can never avoid them completely. Even individuals who are well-informed and well prepared have acute stress reactions in such situations. These are normal reactions.

What can you do to help yourself?

1. Pay more attention to your feelings and reactions than to the event itself.

2. Don’t judge or blame yourself. Don’t criticize yourself for having these reactions. Be patient with yourself. Think about how you’d talk to a friend in this situation, and then treat yourself the same way. Try to reduce other sources of stress in your life for a while.

3. Take the time to talk about your physical and emotional reactions to someone close to you (friend, spouse, relative). You can also turn to coworkers.

4. Within twenty-four hours following the event, get some physical exercise, no matter how light it is.

5. Find something that will help you forget the event for a while. Some people find it helpful to keep busy (leisure activities, hobbies, manual activities, warm baths, physical exercise, etc.), while others find it helpful to relax or go out with friends. Take time to rest.

6. If you find you’re getting mental images of the event or other fears, remind yourself that you’re safe now and that you no longer have to be on “red alert.” Then direct your attention to something else. A lot of people will be curious and ask you questions about the event. If you don’t feel like answering, it’s perfectly appropriate to explain politely that you prefer not to talk about it. You can say, “I understand that you’d like to know more about what happened, but I’d rather not talk about it.

7. Seek Professional support from a Counselor. Although the situation/experience cannot be changed, research shows it is healing to work through your pain rather than keep it stored in your body.

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