Tips for Managing During a Crisis

Written by Michelle Everson Artius Psychologist, Oxenford

Often psychologists refer to sudden, stressful events as “critical incidents”.  These are usually challenging, sudden events that may create significant distress and overwhelm your ability to cope.

Incidents can be things like an emergency, injury, traumatic event or natural disaster. Some people react straightaway whilst others may take longer to respond. There are a range of common responses which may change according to your personality, coping style, other issues you have going on and level of support from family and friends.

Reactions to a Critical Incident

Behavioural: Sleeplessness, Nightmares, Appetite Changes, Withdrawal from Others, Crying Spells, Risk-Taking, Checking Things Repeatedly or Being Very Careful

Physical: Sweating, Exhaustion and Tiredness, Breathing Changes, Indigestion, Nausea and Diarrhea

Cognitive (thinking): Confusion, Disbelief, Blame, Poor Concentration, Indecision and Paranoia

Emotional: Shock, Anger, Sadness, Guilt, Terror, Numbness, Anxiety, Avoidance and Depression

Avoid drugs and alcohol. These are ways in which people attempt to “deal” with a situation. However, they can in themselves become a problem.

Treatment and Intervention

It is important to remember that there are a range of typical responses and most reactions will likely reduce over time. It is also helpful to understand the importance of returning to your normal routine as soon as possible. Research shows that the longer an individual remains away from their workplace, the harder it is to return. 

The following are some very general tips for recovering after an incident:

  • Recognise that you have been through an extraordinary or stressful experience and that it is not unusual to have a reaction to it. Reactions are a response to a situation, not a personal weakness
  • Remind yourself that your reactions are typical. Don't get angry with yourself for being upset
  • Don’t overuse drugs or alcohol to help you cope
  • Avoid making major life decisions or big life changes
  • Gradually confront what has happened and do not try to block it out- even though this may help in the short term
  • Try not to bottle up your feelings. Talk to someone who can support and understand you- such as a family member or close friend
  • Try to keep your normal routine and stay busy
  • Try not to go out of your way to avoid certain places or activities
  • If you feel exhausted, allow time to rest
  • Make time for regular exercise to “burn off” excess energy
  • Express feelings are they arise. Don't worry if they don't make sense

If you or a colleague are experiencing ongoing symptoms and would like to access support, Artius can help with our Employee Assistance Program (EAP), call today on 1300 764 003 or email