Critical Incident Stress – Signs & Symptoms

Following are some signs and symptoms a person may experience if involved in a critical incident.  When we, as the VPD CISM Team, meet with officers, we try to impress upon them that they may experience all or none of the signs, and at any intensity.  We also try to impress upon them that whatever they are going through is a normal process, and we also stress the importance of seeking additional professional help if needed.



  • Any change in normal behaviour
  • Changes in activity level, appetite, sexual interest
  • Withdrawal, irritability, anger, inattentiveness
  • Breaking the ‘rules’ or adhering to them without flexibility
  • Absenteeism, procrastination, poor performance
  • Increased anxiety
  • Sleep problems


  • Fatigue
  • Low pain threshold
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Changes in breathing (hyperventilating)
  • Cardiac and circulatory changes
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Blurring of vision
  • Stomach and digestive problems
  • Exacerbation of existing problems (spine and back problems, migraine headaches, arthritic and rheumatic conditions, asthma, skin disorders)


  • Indecision
  • Denial of problem
  • Depression
  • Pessimism
  • Feelings of loss of control or isolation
  • Overly sensitive
  • Hypercritical
  • Memory loss
  • Poor concentration

This list is not exhaustive, but a guide to help people suffering from critical incident stress understand what their bodies are going through, and to assist them with their recovery.



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