Coping with grief and distress following a critical incident

Everyone has an emotional reaction to a distressing and out of the ordinary event.

To some degree we will all feel a bit shocked, out of sorts and shaky for few days or weeks. Some of us though will have a very strong emotional reaction with high levels of shock, distress, sadness, fear, agitation, sleep disturbance and worry that can be overwhelming.

The nature of the loss or traumatic incident as well as what is happening in our lives can influence this. These are all normal reactions and should be responded to as such. For most of us, it will take a little time to help us to cope and adjust, and get back to some kind of normal.

Eight guidelines to help you cope following a critical incident

  1. As far as possible maintain your daily routines and activities: go to work, school, take part in recreation activities—event if you feel upset, sad or distressed.
  2. Be realistic about how your life, work, study and emotional staff will be at time like this. You won’t be your best and this is to be expected.
  3. Talk to family, whānau, friends and colleagues about how you are feeling. This will help you maintain a more balanced perspective and assist you to recover faster.
  4. Take time out to sleep, exercise, socialise, meditate, relax—everyday—especially while you remain feeling affected, distressed, sad or anxious. This really helps!
  5. Minimise/avoid use of alcohol and drugs—while short-term relief may be gained, these can impede recovery.
  6. Be gentle on yourself. You are a human-being and feeling sad, overwhelmed, and distressed is absolutely normal fo  this kind of a situation.
  7. Remember to check in with others who may not be coping—friends, family, colleagues, and students. Simple expressions of care and concern can make a huge difference.
  8. Don’t make any big decision on impulse. Keep a day at a time focus and avoid focusing excessive on future worries or fears.

If things persist and don’t improve, speak (or refer others) to a professional:

  • Mauri Ora (Student Health and Counselling) at Victoria University of Wellington.
  • Your GP.

The following services external to the University may also be useful, and are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week:

  • Need to talk: free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor
  • Lifeline: call 0800 376 633 or text 4357
  • Youthline: call 0800 376 633, free text 234, or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • Suicide Crisis Line: 0508 828 865
  • Te Haika/Crisis Resolution Services: 0800 745 477.