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.
Raised blood pressure
Rapid heart rate
Poor problem solving
Poor abstract thinking
Difficulty paying attention
Disorientation of time, place or person
Difficulty identifying objects or people
Heightened or lowered alertness
Increased or decreased awareness of surroundings
Loss of emotional control
Inappropriate emotional response
Inability to rest
Change in social activity
Change in speech patterns
Loss or increase of appetite
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.
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 Hospital – free 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.