Chaplain's Column: How to Survive Critical Incident Stress

The deputy took a six month leave of absence from the department. He never returned to work.


This is one example of how CIS can overwhelm a person. So how do you stop this "raging mother grizzly" of critical incident stress from ripping your insides out?

  1. Know yourself.

    The first step to battle CIS is to be prepared. Take care of yourself before a critical incident. Exercise, good diet, and downtime are helpful. Hydrate with water. Know your stress levels, and when you need a break. Build relationships with loved ones, they will be your strongest defense.

  2. Know the enemy.

    When we get an "adrenaline rush," there are some 10,000 chemicals dumped into our bodies. These chemicals take an average of 18 hours to get rid of when unchecked. Drinking water flushes chemicals from our bodies. Exercise sweats the chemicals out. Avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol, since they just add more chemicals to the mix.

    Officers fall back to the level of their training. Most go into "automatic pilot" when facing a critical incident. You are trained to control yourselves and the situation until the crisis is resolved. This is important for officer safety. After the crisis you may feel out of control. You may feel depressed, confused, angry, and a host of other things. You may feel numb and not feel anything at all. You may experience physical reactions such as headaches, sleeplessness and/or nightmares, stomach upset, even vomiting. Realize it is normal to react abnormally after a critical incident.

  3. Know your support system.

    Your spouse and/or family can help you heal. Don't shut them out. You don't have to share the gory details, but do share how you felt. Hold their hand. Talk to them.

    Find someone you trust and talk to them about the incident and vent.

    Chaplains can offer confidentiality, and are trained to listen. They understand the unique challenges officers face. Most are trained in CIS and can help directly or can refer to other professionals.

  4. Know where to get help.

    Chaplains, peer support and employee assistance programs are good places to start.

If you know someone who has recently gone through a CIS, don't ignore them. Reach out your hand to them and offer help.

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