Self-Care for First Responders in Critical Situations
May 8, 2016

Self-Care for First Responders after Trauma

As a first responder, you dedicate your life to your community. You enter headlong into situations where accidents and catastrophic events cause injuries and casualties. Without thought to your own personal safety, you rescue and treat people who are strangers to you. Yours is an admirable profession, one that is heralded by the public, who appreciate the risks you take and selfless commitment you make for the greater good of humanity.

It’s also important to recognize you are human as well, with emotions and reactions that can’t be helped. After you’ve responded to a critical event, your vulnerability to trauma increases greatly. Emotionally and psychologically, you may have reactions that are negative or harmful.

Common Reactions to Trauma

Here are signs that indicate you are experiencing trauma:


  • An increase or decrease in activity
  • Crying more easily
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeplessness
  • Change in eating habits
  • Irresponsible behaviors like taking unnecessary risks or abusing medications, drugs or alcohol
  • Relationships start suffering from conflicts


  • Headaches, nausea, vomiting
  • Stomach upset
  • Panic attacks
  • Chills and/or sweating
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Illness
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle tension


  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Guilt
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Apathy
  • Blocking emotions
  • Feeling invincible
  • Worry
  • Desolation


  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory Issues
  • Disorientation
  • Recurrent thoughts related to the critical event
  • Attitudes changes in the way you view the world, others and yourself
  • Decision-making problems

These reactions are nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. By being aware of these possible responses, there are steps you can take before, during and after critical events.


  • Ensure you have adequate training, so you have the skills and knowledge about how critical events can affect you and how to intervene.
  • Understand your role and the duties involved.
  • Self-evaluate to see if you are under stress.
  • Monitor and maintain your health.
  • Maintain your social and professional support network.


  • Focus on your job and concentrate on what you are there to do.
  • Be aware of your reactions.
  • If your reactions are interfering with working, consider asking colleagues for help.


  • Don’t ignore your feelings and emotions; express them.
  • Ask for help if needed.
  • Stay close to friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself.
  • Get back into your daily routines for hygiene, sleep and meals.
  • Keep physically active.
  • Deal with issues that have realistic solutions.
  • Avoid self-medicating, taking drugs or drinking alcohol to excess.
  • If you are under regular medical treatment, contact your healthcare professional.
  • Don’t make any rash decisions of importance.

Keep in Mind

Your reactions to critical events are normal; the situations you have witnessed are what’s unusual. You are human and have been immersed in catastrophic and risky experiences that could affect anyone. Even with training, crisis events can cause trauma.

As you get back into a more normal routine, your reactions will decrease. Give yourself 4-8 weeks, and if your reactions are still at an intense level or you are coping by using drugs or alcohol, consider seeking professional help. Trauma and substance abuse are common amongst first responders. You are not alone in this struggle.

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