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Psychological impacts on rescuers

Recognise the possible psychological impacts on rescuers of involvement in critical incidents

If you are involved in first aid management it is a good idea to think about ways you can ‘de-stress’ so that the trauma doesn’t have a lasting and detrimental impact upon you.

Drawing of a woman standing in front of a mirror and seeing stars and coloured lines and circles

Don’t let this happen

De-stressing strategies can include:

You will all know what works best for you. If your traditional ways of dealing with stress don’t work, you might want to seek supervision or counselling yourself to help you to make sense of why the conflict has had a particular impact upon you.

Individuals can take responsibility for their own stress management by taking good care of their general physical and mental health. Improving health for stress management involves:

Seven simple strategies that work:

  1. Slow down your breathing: Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly each time.
  2. Use exercise to wind down: Physical activity releases the energy and muscle tension built up by stress.
  3. Relax your muscles directly: The stress response produces muscular tension and this causes aches and pains. Relaxing your muscles could involve:
    1. Tensing muscles before you consciously relax them. You can achieve this with simple activities such as shrugging the shoulders, rolling the neck from side to side, clenching and releasing your hand.
    2. Massage. For deeper muscle relaxation massage your own scalp, hands or feet. Or get someone else to give you an all over massage.
    3. Warmth. Use warm water or hot packs to relax tense muscles.
  4. Posture: Your body has to work harder if you are standing or sitting incorrectly. Check your posture regularly, especially if you have to perform the same task for extended periods of time. Change your position as often as possible, stretching your muscles as you move.
  5. Release tension emotionally: Physical activity helps to use up the adrenalins created by stress. When physical activity is not possible, try releasing tension by sharing your feelings with someone else. Putting feelings into words helps to release pent-up emotions and assists in problem solving. Laughter has been called "the best medicine", and not without cause. Stress often makes us focus on the serious and negative aspects of our life. Laughter releases chemicals such as endorphins which help us to feel more relaxed and often enables us to see things from a more balanced perspective.
  6. Slow down: Deliberately slow your movements down - walking, driving, working. The calmer pace will reduce the impact of stress on your body and help to prevent accidents.
  7. Take a break: Allow for adequate rest breaks in your work day. Not taking breaks in order to save time increases the risk of accidents. When you take a break try to find a physical environment and an activity that are different from your usual work environment. This may mean something as simple as going for a walk. It could also mean temporarily switching from one job to another.

A program of physical care should include activities that occur before exposure to stress, during stressful periods, and afterwards.

Physical care program
Before During After
Activities for good health On the spot relaxation Activities that relax or that burn energy

Regular exercise

  • aerobic
  • weight
  • bearing
  • flexibility

Medical check ups

Diet

Sleep

Holidays

Posture

Controlled breathing

Muscle tense & relax

Venting emotion

Time out

Laughter

Slow down

Relaxation

Massage

Warm baths

Exercise

Dancing

Singing

Laughing

Venting emotion

A particular sort of stress may affect you after a violent incident - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This involves, for instance, anxiety, sleep problems and depression. This is a normal reaction to a traumatic incident, and is best dealt with by professional counselling