Critical Incident Stress

Adverse Effects of CIS and Its Impact on the Lives of Personnel

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What is Critical Incident Stress?

When First Responders are not able to process their experiences and release corresponding inner tensions, they may present symptoms of Critical Incident Stress (CIS). CIS is a very real and potentially fatal threat to emergency services personnel. It is known to contribute to job loss and the break-up of families. CIS is the adverse reaction to a stressful situation or incident, and that adverse reaction can be psychological and/or physiological.

First Responders are particularly susceptible to CIS, by the very nature of their jobs. Stress has a cumulative effect on the body when tensions are not released. Someone who has been involved in numerous incidents without any perceivable complications may suddenly develop the signs and symptoms of a stress reaction during a nonstressful situation. The cumulative effect of stress can also manifest itself when an individual who is experiencing other stressors (such as marital or family problems, or the recent death of a friend or relative) is then called out for an incident. This individual may suddenly develop the signs and symptoms of a stress reaction, even in what may appear to be an uneventful incident.

In any incident where a particularly stressful situation develops, emergency medical personnel are at risk. An incident involving a mutilated or decomposing body, the death or serious injury of a fellow worker, or a politically frustrating situation may all lead to CIS. Description of Symptoms When the body registers something stressful, many complicated chemical reactions start percolating. Epinephrine (adrenaline) is released, and other hormonal levels fluctuate for optimal response.

The Body’s Reaction to Stress

The body will prepare itself by tensing up muscles, revving the metabolism and increasing respiration and pulse rates. Protein and fat levels rapidly increase in the blood stream to prepare for the anticipated energy needs, and the liver will churn out ten times the amount of glucose that it does under non-emergency circumstances.

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Stress reactions from a critical incident come in many forms, including acute, delayed, and cumulative stress reactions. Not dealing with these reactions and their effects can dangerously limit or cripple the ability of the individual to function.

Some physical reactions require immediate intervention and attention, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, fainting, or physical collapse.

Cognitive and behavioral reactions can be more subtle. They may include hyper-alertness and hyperactivity, a serious disruption in thought processes or an extremely slowed thought process, problems recognizing familiar people or things, and an inability to perform the most mundane of tasks. A person in the midst of an acute reaction may exhibit strong emotions, and may vocalize these reactions at inappropriate times. The many kinds of reactions to CIS can be as varied as the people who experience them.

Identifying Traumatic Events and Common Symptoms

In “Psychological Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Review,” Dr. Raymond B. Flannery provides a description of the nature of traumatic events, their common symptomatology, their disruptions to normal psychological and biological functioning, and the negative health consequences of untreated incidents Following are some common symptoms Dr. Flannery describes.
Intrusive Symptoms:

Persistent re-experiencing of the event in images, thoughts, recollections, daydreams, and nightmares

Acting and feeling as if re-living the event

Distress in the presence of symbolic reminders

Avoidance Symptoms:

Avoiding places and thoughts symbolic of the trauma

Problems in recalling the event

Loss of interest in important activities

Restricted emotions

Washington, DC, June 28, 2005 -- First respond...
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Sense of foreshortened future

Arousal Symptoms:


Exaggerated startle response

Sleep disturbance

Difficulty concentrating

Irritability or angry outbursts

Using Kundalini Yoga to Alleviate Symptoms of CIS

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The technology of Kundalini Yoga provides specific actions that First Responders can take and share with victims of disaster to help individuals recover and gain stability during a crisis. When the technologies of controlled breathing, combined with posture and sound current meditation, are applied, both First Responders and the victims of disasters can gain immediate benefits. In addition, the technology helps First Responders to build resiliency to help cope with repeated exposure to stressful incidents over time.

Simple Yoga and Meditation Techniques here >>