Most people will experience stress symptoms after a traumatic event. These reactions are a natural consequence of the traumatic experience, varying widely in both frequency and intensity. The immediate shock usually lasts from a few hours to a day, sometimes longer.
This initial shock then gradually subsides when the danger is over and the person feels safe. Eventually, the person will start to incorporate what has happened and it’s consequences for his or her life. The feeling of unreality can come and go. Adapting to an event that happened suddenly is demanding.
During the first two weeks, care is central:
- Ensure that basic needs are fulfilled
- Strengthen the individual’s trust in both their own and society’s ability to handle the situation.
- Facilitate contact and connectedness (family, friends, community)
- Help those affected manage their stress reactions (apathy, hysteria, anxiety etc.).
- Promote a sense of hope
Put your own oxygen mask on first – then help others!
Those impacted by a crisis react to how support personnel behave – as a substantial part of communication is subconscious and nonverbal. The emotions elicited when facing someone in crisis can vary: compassion, sympathy, sadness, hopelessness, apathy, frustration or irritability. Support personnel have to be able to regulate their own emotions to adequately focus on the needs of those affected.
Support personnel are themselves affected when working with crises and may express this when natural. It is important to be personal, but avoid being private – the one you are trying to help should always be in focus.
Kirsti Silvola – Special Adviser, RVTS East
Emotions are sources of information that should be listened to, but can sometimes be too intense and thus negatively affect the help we can provide. For example, if feelings of hopelessness or frustration take up too much space, those you are helping will notice this. They may then feel less cared for or even rejected.
Tips for regulating strong emotions before the mission:
- Plan and visualise. Imagine the situation you are going into and recall previous experiences.
- Gather information and get an overview of the situation.
- Tune in to your breathing; regulate your breath through controlled inspiration and expiration.
- Talk positively to yourself: “I’ve done this many times”, “Feelings are not dangerous”.
Tips for regulating strong emotions during the mission:
- Create an overview and provide structure for both yourself and those affected.
- Move around or stand up, control your breathing.
- Activate your senses to help you keep focused: Feel your feet touching the floor, look around you…
- Reduce self-criticism; it will take focus away from the tasks at hand.
- Say: “I’m sorry, I got a bit carried away.” “When you said that, I felt…“ “I’m sorry.” “Can you tell me more?”
- Take breaks. Talk to a colleague. Get something to eat or drink.