Critical Stress

FirefightersWhat is a Critical Incident?

The definition of a critical incident is any event or experience which has the power to overwhelm the defenses of an individual.  It is the kind of event, due to it’s danger, horror, threat or loss, which could cause any person to feel a significant increase in stress and stress reactions – immediate or delayed.  Examples of a critical incident are:

  • Robbery
  • Serious injury, death or suicide of a fellow co-worker
  • Any incident in which sights and sounds are distressing
  • Any catastrophic event/major disaster
  • Mass casualty event
  • Death, injury or abuse of a child
  • Incidents that attract extremely unusual or possible derogatory news media coverage
  • Contact with communicative diseases, e.g. AIDS/Hepatitis B
  • Death of a close family member
  • Hostage or barricaded situation
  • Mass Murder
  • Physical confrontation
  • Physical or sexual assault

What is traumatic for one person may not be for another . . . but trauma stress can happen to anyone.  Stress from a critical incident cannot be prevented; it is the result of exposure to trauma . . . but it can be managed through a Critical Incident Debriefing.   

What is a Critical Incident Debriefing?

A debriefing is a confidential, non-evaluative discussion of the incident with a professional who understands the dynamic thoughts and feelings involved with traumatic events. Participants learn to understand their reactions and to strengthen coping mechanisms.

Goals of the Critical Incident Debriefing

  • Lessen the emotional impact on personnel exposed to the critical incident.
  • Accelerate recovery from the event before harmful stress reactions damage work performance, health and work and family relations . . . stop reactions before they start and to confine them before they spread to other employees.  Ending emotional stress reactions early helps stop physical stress reactions that can lead to missed days of work and even possible worker’s compensation claims. 
  • Provide an atmosphere of concern and caring within the organization and avoid creating disgruntled employees.
  • Provide information and training about critical incident stress and stress reactions that personnel can use to help themselves and their fellow workers.

Signs of Critical Incident Stress

Each person reacts to stress in their own way, but some of the most common reactions you may experience are:

  • Decline in job performance
  • Loss of appetite/nausea
  • Irritability/anger
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Tenseness
  • Re-experiencing the event, flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Physical complaints
  • Fear of the workplace
  • Anxiety

What to do after a Critical Incident?

Contact Greenberg & Associates at our 24-hour hotline (804) 520-6868 to arrange a Critical Incident Debriefing.