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Critical Incident Stress Management: What You NEED to Know

Posted by Andrea Baysinger on

Critical Incident Stress Management. Unless you’re in the military or a first responder, you’re likely not familiar with this terminology. It is a protocol developed specifically for dealing with traumatic events. I’ve shared many times that I was a cop before becoming the Toothcop. But what many don’t know is that I was also a chaplain. I was trained to help fellow first-responders through physical and psychological trauma.

In this episode of Talking with the Toothcop, Andrea and I talk about grief and the grieving process. We talk about critical incidents and how to recognize the signs and symptoms that you’re dealing with psychological trauma. We also share some stress-management strategies and resources for yourself and your team to work through critical incident stress.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:22] Critical Incident Stress Management
  • [9:06] Grief: experiencing psychological trauma
  • [13:35] We must move through the 5 stages of grief
  • [16:41] The pandemic: A series of incidents
  • [21:42] Critical incident stress management system
  • [25:08] Signs and symptoms of psychological trauma
  • [33:49] Reduce the effects of trauma for yourself and your teams
  • [38:48] What does this have to do with OSHA?

The psychological trauma we’re all facing

We’re all grieving right now. Some of us have physically lost someone to COVID-19. Many have lost their jobs, their businesses, and their independence. We are mourning our loss of connectedness and dealing with severe loneliness. Whether you recognize it or not, we’re dealing with unprecedented levels of stress. Even though we can’t SEE the damage, the damage is just as pervasive, certain, and severe as physical trauma. 

Andrea points out that losing a job is a normal occurrence in society—but we can’t cope with the repercussions the way we normally would. It isn’t as simple as going out and getting another job. Everyone is being affected emotionally. In most instances I’ve witnessed, it’s harder to come out of emotional trauma than physical trauma. I want to emphasize that it’s okay to feel how you’re feeling—but you need to recognize that you’re grieving to move through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance).

The critical incident stress management system

Critical incident stress management (CISM) is “an adaptive, short-term psychological helping-process that focuses solely on an immediate and identifiable problem”. The way people respond to emergencies and disasters strains their ability to function. Their future depends on learning how to manage the psychological stress and impact of those incidents. The system is geared towards:

  • Normalizing your instinctive reactions
  • Lessening the impact of the incident
  • Encourages the natural recovery process
  • Restores adaptive functioning skills
  • And helps determine the need for further support

No one signed up for the trauma we’re all facing. We are grieving our old way of life—because when things return to “normal” they’ll never be the same. We may not all be dealing with death, but we are still dealing with loss. We must seek to understand it to lessen the impact.

Signs and symptoms of psychological trauma

Stress is a mental phenomenon that can be manifested physically. Some of the symptoms include: Exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, weakness, chest pain, rapid heart rate, headache, excessive thirst, fainting, elevated blood pressure, exacerbate allergies, symptoms of shock, and more. 

Our bodies are trying to tell us there’s something wrong. We can also experience cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions.

  • Cognitive reactions: blaming others, confusion, reduced attention span, poor concentration, troubled thoughts, nightmares, and so forth.
  • Emotional reactions: frustration, anxiety, guilt, sense of loss, anger, denial, fear of loss of control, feelings of isolation, and more.
  • Behavioral reactions: Emotional Outbursts, changes in activity level, disturbed sleep, increase in smoking or drug use, easily startled, anti-social, withdrawn, change in eating habits, fidgety and restless, change in sex-drive.

The odds are everyone is dealing with some of these symptoms in one form or another. You have to recognize that this is normal right now, but YOU have the power to change how you react and move forward.

How to reduce the effects of trauma—for yourself and your team

There are a few simple recommendations for dealing with the effects on an individual level:

  • Limit exposure to noise and odors
  • Take 15-minute rest breaks
  • Drink non-caffeinated fluids (water)
  • Don’t eat excessive sugar or fat
  • Don’t rush back to work
  • Talk through your feelings

Whenever we eventually return to our offices, owners and managers need to keep these things in mind. Many people may be hesitant to return to work and it’s your job to help them feel safe. You must also convey to patients that your office is safe.

One way you can help your team transition back to work is to facilitate a structured critical incident debriefing with your team. It’s a 7-step phase that helps you work through the psychological trauma together—because none of us are in this alone.

Listen to the whole episode for an in-depth discussion on each of these topics. For more resources, visit some of the links below for dealing with critical incident stress management or setting up a critical incident debriefingfor your team.

Resources & People Mentioned

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