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Incident Stress: Information
For Emergency Response Workers
take many forms and demand quick response from emergency workers. They
may include natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes, or
they may involve manmade disasters such as technological failures or
terrorist attacks. As a member of an emergency response team, you and
your team members are at risk of experiencing what psychologists refer
to as a traumatic
incidentan incident that may involve exposure
to catastrophic events, severely injured children or adults, dead bodies
or body parts, or the loss of colleagues, for instance.
incidents can produce unusually strong emotional reactions that may interfere
with your ability to function at the scene or later:
may experience any of the physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral
symptoms listed below in Table 1. Some people experience emotional
aftershocks weeks or months after they have passed through a traumatic
event. Others may experience these reactions while still at the scene,
where they must stay clearly focused on constantly changing hazards
to maintain their own safety and to rescue injured victims.
that strong emotions are normal reactions to an abnormal situation!
of stress that may be experienced during or after a traumatic incident
Heightened or lowered alertness
Poor problem solving
Difficulty identifying familiar objects or people
Severe panic (rare)
Loss of emotional control
Sense of failure
Blaming others or self
Temporary loss or increase of appetite
Excessive alcohol consumption
Inability to rest, pacing
Change in sexual functioning
medical attention immediately
if you experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe pain, or
symptoms of shock (shallow breathing, rapid or weak pulse, nausea, shivering,
pale and moist skin, mental confusion, and dilated pupils).
mental health support
if your symptoms or distress continue for several weeks or interfere
with your daily activities.
You Can Do On-site
care of yourself will help you to stay focused on hazards at the site
and to maintain the constant vigilance you need for your own safety.
Often responders do not recognize the need to take care of themselves
and to monitor their own emotional and physical healthespecially
when recovery efforts stretch into several weeks.
guidelines contain simple methods for helping yourself. Read them while
you are at the site and again after you return home.
yourself. Rescue and recovery efforts at the site may continue for
days or weeks.
frequent rest breaks. Rescue and recovery operations take place in
extremely dangerous work environments. Mental fatigue over long shifts
can place emergency workers at greatly increased risk for injury.
out for each other. Co-workers may be intently focused on a particular
task and may not notice a hazard nearby or behind.
conscious of those around you. Responders who are exhausted, feeling
stressed, or even temporarily distracted may place themselves and
others at risk.
as normal a schedule as possible: regular
eating and sleeping are crucial. Adhere to the team
schedule and rotation.
sure that you drink plenty of fluids such as water and juices.
to eat a variety of foods and increase your intake of complex carbohydrates
(for example, breads and muffins made with whole grains, granola bars).
possible, take breaks away from the work area. Eat and drink in the
cleanest area available.
and accept what you cannot changethe chain of command, organizational
structure, waiting, equipment failures, etc.
to people when YOU feel
like it. You decide when you want to discuss your experience. Talking
about an event may be reliving it. Choose your own comfort level.
your employer provides you with formal mental health support, use
yourself permission to feel rotten: You are in a difficult situation.
thoughts, dreams, or flashbacks are normaldo not try to fight
them. They will decrease over time.
with your loved ones at home as frequently as possible.
You Can Do at Home
your impressions and understanding of your experience will change. This
process is different for everyone. No matter what the event or your
reaction to it, you can follow some basic steps to help yourself adjust
to the experience:
outpeople really do care.
with family, spiritual, and community supports.
keeping a journal.
not make any big life decisions.
as many daily decisions as possible to give yourself a feeling of
control over your life.
time with others or alone doing the things you enjoy to refresh and
aware that you may feel particularly fearful for your family. This
is normal and will pass in time.
that "getting back to normal" takes time. Gradually work
back into your routine. Let others carry more weight for a while at
home and at work.
aware that recovery is not a straight path but a matter of two steps
forward and one back. You will make progress.
a sense of humor in yourself and others. It is OK to laugh again.
family will experience the disaster along with you. You need to support
each other. This is a time for patience, understanding, and communication.
overuse of drugs or alcohol. You do not need to complicate your situation
with a substance abuse problem.
plenty of rest and normal exercise. Eat well balanced, regular meals.
National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Department
of Veterans Affairs. http://www.ncptsd.org/
Mental Health: Dealing with the Aftereffects of Terrorism. Brief Information
for the Public and the Professional. National Center for PTSD, Veterans
D. (1996). The nutritional needs of rescue teams. Emergency Preparedness
Digest, April-June, pp. 26-27