The Psychological Challenges of Coping With a Traumatic Event

Being involved in an emergency can be very stressful. People respond to traumatic events in different ways and it is important to cope with the psychological reaction after the emergency.

How we respond depends on individual factors such as our personality, our current stress levels, and our past experience with traumatic events. There is no right or wrong way to react. Some people have an immediate, intense reaction, while for others the reaction may occur hours or days later. One may have a strong physical reaction too including crying, shaking, tension, nausea, or weakness in the limbs.

The psychological reaction too can be very intense, especially if the casualty does not survive the injury or sudden illness. You need to realize that not every casualty we try to save will survive. Many times circumstances beyond our control lead to the final outcome. One's psychological reaction may include a sense of disbelief, anger, fear, or feelings of guilt. One may also relive the sights and sounds of the event or have nightmares.

To cope with the effects of a traumatic event:

  • Avoid being alone after responding to an upsetting emergency.
  • Remind yourself that a strong reaction is natural and normal but also varies from person to person.
  • Share your thoughts and feelings with someone close to you. Talk with your family physician if necessary.
  • Be gentle and patient with yourself. Consider how you would comfort a frightened child and do the same for yourself.
  • Go easy on yourself for a few days; don't demand much of yourself.
  • Try to find some activity or diversion to help you forget about the event temporarily.
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