Common Reactions After a Critical Incident

Critical incidents are unexpected, unusual events perceived by an individual as threatening or traumatic. They are often sudden, outside our normal frame of reference and a challenge to out ability to cope. If you experience a critical incident, you can have a wide range of reactions. It is important to remember:

Your reaction is your reaction. You might react differently to different situations at different times. There is no right way to react

Common reactions


  • Disbelief
  • Anger or irritability
  • Grief/sadness
  • Fear
  • Numbness
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Guilt and/or feelings of shame
  • Anxiety
  • Yearning
  • Loneliness


  • difficulty concentrating or loss of focus
  • Intrusive flashbacks, memories of event
  • Decreased trust
  • Memory challenges
  • Searching for blame or responsibility
  • Ruminating on choices made
  • Taking responsibility for things that weren't known or within one's control
  • Searching for meaning


  • Fatigue
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes to appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Digestive upset
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Aches and pains


  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Dreams or nightmares
  • Seeking closeness with loved ones
  • Returning to old coping patterns
  • Pacing/body agitation or restlessness
  • Seeking people to talk to about the experience


  • Seeking meaning of life and purpose
  • Spiritual confusion and possibility estrangement
  • Strengthened or renewed spirituality
  • Feeling abandoned by spiritual connection

Additional supports are needed when:

  • Your reactions are feeling particularly strong and persisting over time
  • Your reactions are increasing in intensity, rather than decreasing over time
  • You feel out of control, or your activities of daily living are being negatively affected
  • Your own coping and support resources aren't helping you to find a resolution

What you can do to help others:

  • Listen with an open mind, acknowledge their thoughts and feelings
  • Accept that they may need time and space
  • Offer to lend a hand with everyday tasks
  • Point out there are resources and supports available to help
  • Respect their privacy, and only reach out on their behalf with their consent, or if you are concerned about imminent safety

On-campus resources

Staff Wellness

Calling Staff Wellness is a great first step for faculty or staff or post-doctoral scholars experiencing distress. The Mental Health Consultant and Ability Management Advisors can provide advice about appropriate on and off-campus support resources.

403.220.2918 | |

Campus Security

For all imminent life-threatening situations, call 911. For all other safety and security concerns, call Campus Security for 24/7 support and immediate response.

403.220.5333 |

Sexual Violence Support Advocate

The Sexual Violence Support Advocate offers confidential support and information regarding sexual violence to all members of the university community.

403.220.2208 |

Office of Diversity, Equity and Protected Disclosure

The Protected Disclosure serves as a confidential resource for individuals seeking information and advice on sensitive and diverse matters.

403.220.4086 |

Student Wellness Services

Faculty and staff can contact Student Wellness Services for information about assisting students or visit for walk-in medical appointments, chiropractic treatments, massage therapy and nutrition services.
403.210.9355 |

Off-campus resources

Employee and Family Assistance Plan

TELUS Health provides in-person, online, telephone, and email support at no cost to faculty and staff.

1.866.424.0699 | Learn more

211 Alberta

211 Alberta connects users to the right community and social services. 

Dial 211 |

Access Mental Health

Access Mental Health provides information, consultation and referral over the phone to help you understand and connect with helpful supports.

403.943.1500 | 1.844.943.1500

Distress Centre Calgary

Connect to professional counsellors at the Distress Centre Calgary through their 24-hour crisis line, email, or online chat. Face-to-face counselling is also available.

403.266.HELP (4357) |

Community Connect YYC

Direct 24/7 online booking tool that helps individuals quickly access mental health supports when they need it the most. This service connects the community to a range of supports, including several types of counselling, and even basic needs help, often within the week.