Preparing for and Responding to Threatening / Stressful Events: A Self-help Guide for Employees
3. Coping in the aftermath
After a few days or weeks, strong initial reactions may begin to fade away. It is still important then to continue managing your stress reactions during the weeks and months after an event as to facilitate recovery and as there could be delayed reactions. Maintain your self-care plan and continue monitoring your stress reactions. In addition, here are a few other tools that can help you in coping in the aftermath.
3.1 Knowing what to do in the first few days following a
- a. H.A.L.T : Don't get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
H: Pay attention to signs of hunger. Eat right. Reduce your stress by nourishing your body with regular and healthy snacks and meals. Avoid or reduce caffeinated beverages such as coffee and colas. Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase your stressed feelings, restlessness and disturb your sleep. For ideas on healthy eating, visit Canada's Food Guide
A: Find positive ways to deal with anger, such as going for a brisk walk, and other exercise. Talk about your feelings with others.
L: Pay attention to signs of loneliness and withdrawal. The positive role of social support is strongly associated with resilience to trauma. Talking to family members, friends and coworkers or writing about your experience:
It is common to talk repeatedly about your experience of the event. In writing, be sure to include positive developments as well as concerns. If you don't have loved ones or colleagues to talk to, call a crisis line, other community resources or a clergy member that are there to help you. You can also contact your Employee Assistance Program.
- Is a healthy way to deal with and absorb what has happened;
- Can help people identify feelings or thoughts they have had before, during and after the traumatic experience;
- Can help promote a sense of control over some of the reactions you experienced and can help you feel less alone;
- Can reduce emotional intensity, define feelings, reduce isolation, normalize the experience and give a sense of relief; and
- Can be another way of better understanding and coping with your personal reactions to stress and trauma.
T: Pay attention to signs of tiredness. Remember, the "fight or flight response" may deplete you of energy. Sleep, rest and relaxation are some of the best ways to restore your body and mind to balance and health. After a good sleep the intensity of some of the reactions will subside, but if you had a life threatening experience, expect some reactions to remain intense. Set time aside each day for relaxation and deep breathing.
To help you cope in the aftermath keep in mind as well:
- b. Media:
- Avoid speaking to the media immediately after a traumatic event;
- The media may press you to get a victim's response and this can be emotionally draining and trigger additional reactions.
- c. Physical exercise:
- Exercise helps us feel better, clears our thoughts and helps us think positively.
- Don't over-exercise. If you are not used to exercising, begin gradually and exercise in moderation; and
- For ideas on exercise, see Canada's Physical Activity Guide or call 1-888-334-9769.
- d. Understand your fears and anxieties:
- Fear is a normal adaptive reaction, indeed a life-saving one;
- Fear can warn us that danger is close at hand;
- Normal fear reactions help keep you safe during danger;
- Fear can help us exercise caution, be alert and mobilize strengt;
- The sense of fear also often lingers long after the danger is past;
- You may find yourself overly vigilant, easily startled and on the lookout for danger;
- Fear that the danger or event may reoccur can dominate your thoughts and feelings and make you anxious;
- Fear of recurrence may be triggered by sights, sounds, smells, or other stimuli that remind you of the incident. For example, flood victims may be unable to sleep when it rains because they are afraid that raging water may carry away their home as they sleep. Some tornado survivors will seek shelter in their basement at the slightest hint of a thunderstorm; and
- These fears are normal reactions and are likely to subside as time passes.
- e. Use positive self-talk:
- "It's normal and OK to feel this way after such a stressful event";
- "I can do this, I'm having normal stress reactions that will subside";and
- "There are people who care about me and will help me through this".
- f. Return to your normal routine as soon as you can do so comfortably.
This will help you regain a sense of safety, security and control. (See next section for more detailed information)
3.2 Returning to work after a traumatic event
If an incident has happened in the work place and you are concerned if it is safe to return to work as an employee you may ask for a certification that the workplace is safe. The Workplace Health and Public Safety Programme (WHPSP) of Health Canada can assist your employer in making sure it is safe to return to work.
- a. Value of Returning to Work:
Returning to the work after a traumatic event can be quite stressful. Memories of what happened, of the death or serious injuries to colleagues may be overwhelming. However, the workplace may be the best place for you to return to following a traumatic event as returning to a regular routine and being with colleagues can contribute to your physical and emotional recovery and it can provide you and your co-workers with an opportunity to:
- Meet in a familiar place, surrounded by people you know; and
- Talk about what happened with people who shared a similar experience and who are also trying to make sense of what happened.
- b. If you were injured and are ready to return to work
Don't be surprised if you experience some stressful reactions when you are ready to return to your workplace. Initial distress diminishes as you realize that the workplace is now safe and secure. Contact your EAP provider if stress reactions increase.
If you were seriously injured, a return to work on a gradual basis may be required, along with a suitable work plan and reorientation. This would be discussed and agreed to by the Workplace Health and Public Safety Programme's Occupational Health Medical Officer who is responsible for conducting the Fitness to Work Evaluation (FTWE) and Medical Assessment for an employee's return to work.
- c. Tips on Coping when Returning to Work:
- Practice self-monitoring and pacing;
- Have regular daily check-ins with colleagues, family and friends;
- Talk about the incident, with friends, family and co-workers;
- Eat regular, well balanced meals and nutritious snacks;
- Drink plenty of water, fruit juices or herbal teas;
- Eliminate or cut down on the amount of caffeine consumed (coffee, tea, colas, chocolate);
- Learn to relax and still your mind and body in the midst of high intensity work, instead of relying on stimulant substances;
- Even if you do not feel like it, do some physical exercise;
- Take regular brief walks, change of posture or stretching exercises;
- Take brief relaxation and stress management breaks;
- Maintain your regular lifestyle routines as much as possible;
- Foster flexibility, patience and tolerance;
- Get sufficient rest and sleep; and
- Make every effort to avoid use of alcohol, illicit drugs or excessive amounts of prescription drugs which interfere with sleep cycles.
3.3 Finding meaning in adversity: Relating to others, giving and receiving needed support:
Human beings are amazingly resilient in their response to disasters and traumatic events. They adjust to major changes in their lives. They have to grieve their losses, find temporary housing, repair or rebuild their homes, find new jobs, cope with physical disabilities or injuries, deal with physical or personal crises. Disruption in relationships, roles and routines can make life unfamiliar or unpredictable. It can take several months or even a year, for life to begin to feel normal again.
A significant way that people maintain their personal resilience and find meaning in the face of tragedy and the jarring reality that the world is not entirely a safe and secure place is by engaging in purposeful activities and reaching out to help others. Dangers and threats exist and must now be taken into account.
Although a person may be decent and good, bad things can and do happen to them. As these new experiences of reality sink in, we re- adjust our world view. By reaching out to support and be supported by others we can re-work and re-define our traumatic experience and slowly integrate it into our life experience and personal history. The Public Health Agency of Canada's Office of Emergency Services Web site provides brochures on:
Responding to Stressful Events: Helping Teens Cope
Responding to Stressful Events: Helping Children Cope
Responding to Stressful Events: Taking Care of Ourselves, Our Families and Our Communities
Responding to Stressful Events: Self-Care for Caregivers