ko te manaaki i ngā kaihākinakina | caring for New Zealand's sports community
Photo of fforal tributes and police in Deans Ave, Christchurch, following traumatic event of shooting at the nearby mosque. James Dann [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event

It’s been seven weeks since one of our darkest days: 15 March 2019. Since then, most us have been coming to terms with what has happened and are moving on from the traumatic event. However, for others it is not so easy. Those who personally experienced the attacks, along with their loved ones, are deeply scarred emotionally, if not also physically. First Responders, such as paramedics and police, as well as reporters who covered the events, will need extra care too. There’s also another vulnerable group: those who viewed the shootings online. These may (wrongly) feel too ashamed to even talk to anyone about what they experienced.

The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation provides help in comprehensive crisis intervention as well as disaster behavioural health services. They have kindly provided us with the information in this post, and allowed us to share it in response to the 15 March attacks. SCNZ chaplains have also shared this information directly with Bangladesh cricket team management, as well as NZ Football.

Stress reactions to a traumatic event

Firstly, a critical incident is any event that causes unusually strong emotional reactions that could interfere with normal functioning. Even though the event may be over, you may still experience some strong emotional or physical reactions. It is very common, and quite normal, to experience emotional aftershocks when you have been through a horrible event.

Sometimes the emotional aftershocks, or stress reactions, appear immediately after the traumatic event. But sometimes they may appear a few hours or a few days later. And in some cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions appear.

The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or longer, depending on the severity of the event. The support of loved ones especially, can cause the stress reactions to pass more quickly. Occasionally, the event is so painful that professional help is needed. However, this does not imply craziness or weakness. Instead, it simply indicates that the event was too powerful for the person to manage by themselves.

Some common signs of a stress reaction

To sum up, here are a lot! Any of the following symptoms may indicate the need for medical evaluation. If you are in doubt, then please talk to your GP.

Physical

Chills

Thirst

Fatigue

Nausea

Fainting

Twitches

Vomiting

Dizziness

Weakness

Chest pain

Headaches

Raised blood pressure

Rapid heart rate

Muscle tremors

Shock symptoms

Grinding teeth

Visual difficulties

Profuse sweating

Difficulty breathing

Mental

Confusion

Nightmares

Uncertainty

Hypervigilance

Suspiciousness

Intrusive images

Blaming

Poor problem solving

Poor abstract thinking

Difficulty paying attention

Poor decisions

Difficulty concentrating

Poor memory

Disorientation of time, place or person

Difficulty identifying objects or people

Heightened or lowered alertness

Increased or decreased awareness of surroundings

Emotional

Fear

Guilt

Grief

Panic

Denial

Anxiety

Agitation

Irritability

Depression

Intense anger

Dread

Emotional shock

Emotional outbursts

Feeling overwhelmed

Loss of emotional control

Inappropriate emotional response

Behavioural

Withdrawal

Antisocial acts

Inability to rest

Increased pacing

Erratic movements

Change in social activity

Change in speech patterns

Loss or increase of appetite

Hyperalert

Increased alcohol use

Change in usual communications

Suggestions for those affected by a traumatic event

  • Following the event, in the first 24-48 hours, periods of physical exercise, alternated with relaxation will ease some of the physical reactions.
  • Plan your time, because keeping busy helps.
  • Do not label yourself crazy, because your reactions are normal.
  • Talk to people, because talking is healing.
  • Beware of numbing the pain with drugs or alcohol, because you don’t need a substance abuse problem to complicate things further.
  • Reach out, because people do care.
  • Keep as normal a schedule as possible.
  • Spend time with others.
  • Help others by sharing your feelings and also checking on how they are doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten and to share your feelings with others.
  • Keep a journal; write your way through those sleepless hours.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Realise those around you are also under stress.
  • Don’t make any big life changes.
  • Make as many daily decisions as possible to give you a feeling of control over your life, e.g. if someone asks you what you want to eat, answer them even if you are not sure.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Do not try to fight recurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks; they are normal and will decrease over time and also become less painful.
  • Eat well-balanced and regular meals, even if you don’t feel like it.

Further suggestions for family and friends of those affected by a traumatic event

  • Above all, spend time with the traumatised person, and be a good listener.
  • Offer your assistance and a listening ear if they have not asked for help.
  • Reassure them that they are safe.
  • Help them with tasks like cleaning, cooking, as well as caring for the family.
  • Also give them some private time.
  • Do not take their anger or other feelings personally.
  • Do not tell them that they are ‘lucky it wasn’t worse’, because a traumatised person is not consoled by those words. Instead, tell them that you are sorry this has occurred and you want to understand and help.

More help

Sports Chaplaincy New Zealand – our chaplains are available to sit with you and listen, and will also refer you to other services if necessary.

Canterbury Charity Hospitalfree counselling.

Need to Talk? – free call or text 1737 any time.

Lifeline – 24/7 confidential support.

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 TAUTOKO (0508 828 865).

Ministry of Health – information on how to cope after a traumatic event, in English as well as Arabic.

Youthline – Youth health services.

The Lowdown – Straight up answers for young people for when life sucks.

Kidsline – for people up to 18 years of age.

Mental Health Foundation – links to helpful resources for coping after a traumatic event.

Author Info

Rebecca Hawkins

Rebecca is the Communications and IT Manager for Sports Chaplaincy NZ. In her younger days she played cricket and football with great enthusiasm but very little skill. Now she spends a lot of time supporting her four sons in their sport. She especially loves scoring their cricket matches, which she insists on doing the old fashioned way, with pen and paper.

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