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Emotional Responses in Emergencies

Emotional responses in emergencies range from calm acceptance to rage.
Emotional responses in emergencies range from calm acceptance to rage.

Adrenalin Affects Emotional Responses in Emergencies

Emotional Responses in Emergencies

       Did you know that your emotional response in emergencies comes from your body’s reaction to stress? Most of what happens to you is a chemical reaction.

     Have you heard of the fight/flight reaction? The fight/flight reaction produces adrenalin to prepare you to fight or run away from something threatening to harm it. 

     Your body prepares you to deal with whatever is threatening you by dumping adrenalin into your bloodstream in an emergency. As a result, a lot of raw emotion comes out. So don’t be surprised if you experience some of the following:

  • Feel physically and mentally drained.   
  • Have difficulty making decisions.
  • Unable to stay focused
  • Become easily frustrated.   
  • Angry over almost anything.
  • Experience changes in appetite and sleep.
  • Feel tired, numb, sad, lonely, and worried.
Emotional Shock  

     Sometimes, an event is so traumatic for an individual that they cannot absorb what is happening. It’s too overwhelming for them to face. The depth of their emotional response in the emergency is intense. The trauma causes an emotional shock that takes weeks or months to repair.

     See below how emotional shock often behaves.

  • Physical symptoms develop, such as a racing heartbeat, muscle tension accompanied by generalized aches and pains, terrible headaches, stomach upsets with possible loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea, weight loss, and similar symptoms.
  • Though they feel so totally exhausted, it’s hard for them to do anything physically demanding; they can’t fall asleep when they try to rest.
  • Thinking becomes difficult for them. When thinking about something, it’s like trying to swim through mud, or your mind is not part of your body. It feels like an “out-of-body” experience in many ways.
  • Not only don’t they feel like themselves, but they don’t act like themselves. Friends and family say they seem to develop different personality traits, and emotionally they are “all over the place.”
  • As their condition becomes worse, they become afraid of everything, knowing they cannot control everything that happens around them, and it paralyzes them with fear. Finally, life seems pointless to them as they fall into a deep depression and the risk of suicide becomes a possibility.
Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms

     If symptoms like those above persist beyond a few weeks, it may signify post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Seek professional help if you suspect PTSD because it’s difficult to overcome the emotional shock on your own. 

     Below are several suggestions you may find helpful in dealing with stress.

  • See a doctor if symptoms persist beyond a few weeks.
  • Don’t continue to go back to the location of the emergency if there was an accident.
  • Eat healthily and drink plenty of water.
  • Get adequate rest
  • Stay connected to family and friends.
  • Be patient with yourself and those around you.
  • Set priorities and don’t tackle everything at once
  • Gather information about assistance and resources to help you
  • Stay positive and reach out for support when you need it.
Some people reaction with anger in an emergency.
Some people reaction with anger in an emergency.

Emotional Response in Emergency Is Similar to Grieve

     While it’s true that people’s behavior during an emergency varies, their emotional response tends to follow a similar pattern. The actual emotional response in emergencies resembles the same behaviors seen in the dying process. In a way, that might make sense because often, there is a fear of death during an emergency.

Stages of Grieving

      If you are not familiar with the five stages of grieving, they are:

  • Denial – “This can’t be happening.” “You’re mistaken.” “You’re wrong.” “I know my wife will survive.”
  • Anger – “How could she do this to me?” Why is this happening to us?” “If I could find the person who did this….”
  • Bargaining – “God, if you only let my wife live, I promise I’ll clean up my act and attend church every Sunday.” “Doctor, if I make a large donation to the hospital, can we move to the top of the transplant list?”
  • Depression – “I can’t live without them.” “I’ll never be happy again.” “What’s the point in cleaning up? No one else is here to care anyway.”
  • Acceptance – “I’m sad that she’s gone, but I will move on with my life.” “It’s time to start putting my life back together again.”
Conflict Management Skills

     I try to stay away from trauma and conflict if possible.  Both situations make me highly anxious. My pulse becomes rapid, my sense of awareness of the outside world narrows inward until it encloses me into a tunnel, and I start to stress sweat. I have no self-confidence during any conflict that involves me. Therefore, it’s somewhat of a surprise that I chose a career path in conflict management.

Managing Personal Emotions

     For almost thirty years, I developed skills in managing conflict. During my career, I stopped people from committing suicide, harming others with weapons, committing crimes, walking out on their jobs, and doing other interesting things. I know how to calm people down and gain their trust so that problem-solving can begin. However, I’m lousy at it in my own life. At least, I am in all aspects except being a caregiver. I rock handling my emotional response in emergencies as a caregiver—it may be too well for my good.

     Since Lynn’s diagnosis with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, he has required hospitalization numerous times. Several of those trips included periods in intensive care units. Therefore, I watched Lynn’s condition often deteriorate because I stay with him during his admission.

Lynn in the emergency room after suffering head injury with three hematomas.
Lynn was in the emergency room after suffering a head injury with three hematomas.
Preparing for the Worst

     Each time Lynn starts getting sick at home, I prepare myself for ICU. I feel anxious.  My pulse and breathing are rapid.  I rush around, pulling together supplies for a long admission, trying to remember everything the both of us need from memory. Focusing is difficult. It’s as if my mind is in slow motion while the rest of me is racing. But, eventually, I remember my checklist for the hospital. The checklist helps me focus, and I go through it, making sure I didn’t miss anything.

Strength Through Prayer

     While the checklist helps me focus, what keeps me together is the prayer running through my head. The entire time, I’m rushing around; I’m praying. Yet, I know I’m not alone and that God is pulling his forces together, too.

“Lord, Lynn’s sick. We’re about to go to the hospital and will probably be admitted. Please be with us both. Keep us calm and protected in your arms. Help the medical team to know what to do quickly and not make mistakes. Let him have nice nursing staff who are competent in his care. Let him please feel your arms holding him and caring for him through this. Comfort him and protect him. Restore his health.

“Also, Lord comfort his son and other family members.  Let them know you are in control and that you’ve got this. Would you please help me to help them understand what is happening and comfort them the best I can? Lord, give me the strength I need to support Lynn throughout this admission, handle the lack of sleep, catch any mistakes, watch over him, and give him what he needs from me during this time. Please grant me your peace as you grant the medical team your wisdom and be with us throughout this hospital stay. In Jesus’s Holy name, Amen.”

Calm Descends

I pray something like this over and over as I face the emergency and I calm down. At some point, I also ask God to “take over,” and then I wait.  After that, I became an active observer. My emotions are not as unstable. I fall into a routine with Lynn’s care as I guard his well-being through Jesus’ prompting me when I need to notice something. He’s often warned me to take a second look at something I needed to bring to someone’s attention preventing an error or injury from occurring.

     When I remember the prayer, I stay calm.  When I don’t, I can’t focus. My emotions rocket up and down, as do my pulse and respirations. My voice quality rises and becomes almost a screech at times if I’m frustrated. Crying over good news and bad occurs often.

     When I get that way, I realize I need to find my center and call out to where I get my strength. I start talking to Jesus and remind myself to lay my burdens down before him. If you have never read the poem “Footprints, you should consider reading it. That’s how I feel when I’m in an emergency.  Jesus carries me through those trials until I’m strong enough to walk on my own.