Critical Incidents: What To Do - Headington Institute Skip to content

Critical Incidents: What To Do

During an event

  • Breathe slowly and deeply
  • Calm yourself through mental exercise
  • Connect with others
  • Observe your surroundings
  • Get yourself to safety

Immediately after an event

  • Make sure you are with people. Don’t go home to an empty house. 
  • Talk about the incident with others. Discuss your feelings and reactions.
  • Remind yourself that the event is over and that you are now safe.
  • If possible, get some physical exercise to burn off some of your tension and anxiety.
  • Restrict caffeine and other stimulants. 
  • Try to eat something, even if you do not feel like eating. 
  • Avoid dependency on prescription or other substances. 
  • Sleep disturbance is normal. Do your best to get back to a normal sleep routine.

How to handle the next few days.

  • Do not be afraid of your feelings.
  • Remind yourself that your reactions are a normal result of trauma and will pass in time. 
  • Try to get back into your normal routine as soon as possible; you may need to gradually introduce yourself to tasks that seem difficult. 
  • If you feel uncomfortable, scared or anxious, take some deep breaths and remind yourself that you are safe. 
  • Be kind and patient with yourself; engage in enjoyable and relaxing activities. 
  • Continue to talk to your family, friends and colleagues about the trauma.
  • Even if you feel a bit distant from other people, do not reject genuine support. 
  • Work on your general stress levels; make sure that you have adequate sleep, a good diet and regular exercise. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques to help reduce nervous tension and insomnia.
  • Remember that accidents are more common after severe stress; be more cautious in your activities. 
  • Allow yourself time to deal with the memories. There may be some aspects of the experience that will be difficult, if not impossible, to forget. 
  • If your reaction(s) continues to seriously disrupt your life, seek appropriate help.

When to seek additional help.

  • You are uncomfortable in your own skin, chronically afraid and/or hypervigilant and are restricting your actions because you don’t want to leave your safety zone. 
  • Obsessive thoughts and compulsions to act on them. 
  • Profoundly depressed, hopeless, helpless, guilty, or have considered suicide. You have persistent negative, even fatalistic, thoughts about the future. 
  • Your behavior has changed; argumentative, engaging in fights, abusing alcohol or medication, or are taking increased unnecessary risks. 
  • Your mind cannot relax, you have repeated horrific nightmares, frequent intrusive explicit flashbacks
  • Things don’t feel real or you feel like you have lost your identity. You are unable to remember significant information about the traumatic event.
  • You can’t find the energy for daily routines at home (showering, cooking) and at work (can’t concentrate on your job).  

How to improve your resilience.

  • Build your security skills through regular training such as HEAT.
  • Maintain a supportive network; talk things over with caring friends and loved ones
  • Live a healthy lifestyle: a healthy diet, physical exercise, maintain a regular sleep routine 
  • Think positively about yourself & remind yourself that you can get through the next situation
  • Use stress management and coping skills, such as exercise, yoga, or meditation regularly
  • Make time for activities you enjoy, try new activities or find new hobbies
  • Find additional support as needed; a group, spiritual guidance, or therapist
  • Clean up lingering daily stressors that will exacerbate the next major stressor; pay off credit card bills, send the mother in law home, change negative personal habits, etc.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Support our global humanitarian workers.