Even seasoned first responders may struggle with their reactions to a traumatic event. Common responses include:
- Shock because they can’t believe that what happened is real.
- Helplessness because they were unable to change the outcome.
- Sadness about the event and compassion for affected individuals, families, and loved ones.
- Anger over the event and the actions of the perpetrator.
- Confusion about feelings that they may be experiencing.
- Physical symptoms such as dry mouth, dehydration, or an inability to think clearly or process information.
- Grief, both because of this event, and because it may trigger difficult memories.
- Fear that the event or something like it could happen again.
In addition, first responders who were directly involved with the event may experience:
- Anxiety: Excessive worry, panic attacks, or trouble sleeping.
- Depression symptoms: Persistent sadness, feelings of hopelessness, or loss of interest in activities.
- Survivor’s guilt: Feeling responsible or ashamed about the event and its outcome or feeling guilt over surviving when others did not.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Flashbacks and nightmares, emotional numbness, or hyperarousal and increased alertness.
If you are having any of these reactions, self-care steps that may be helpful include:
- Seek support from friends, family, and peer support resources. Let people know what is helpful and what is not.
- Engage in healthy sleep, diet, and exercise routines. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
- Avoid impulsive or destructive behaviors, such as drug use or excessive drinking or eating.
- Engage in meaningful activities. Rebuild your emotional and physical resilience.
- Be patient. Give yourself space to heal.
When to ask for help:
- If your life, work, or relationships are being disrupted
- If feelings seem overwhelming and you can’t find a way to express them
- If you wonder if your reaction is “normal”
- If you are using alcohol or other drugs to cope