A rise in anxiety is a typical reaction to the initial impact of a hazardous event. A person may experience shock, disbelief, distress, and panic. The increased anxiety is often a defense mechanism as it may allow the person a brief respite if the precipitating event is too overwhelming. If this initial anxiety is not resolved, the person may experience a period of disorganization. During this phase of the crises, the person often experiences feelings of guilt, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, dissociation, confusion and fatigue, leaving them in a vulnerable state. They are now unable to function at their previous level at work, school, or home. Ironically, in certain circumstances anxiety has the power to generate energy and increased coping, such as when a child is in danger and the parent experiences a surge of adrenaline, allowing the parent to rescue the child, or when a natural disaster hits and everyone has increased physical strength and endurance to carry bodies and sandbags.
Anxiety is an internal experience; therefore, interventions might first be aimed at alleviating the internal components of stress. This action makes sense because the external component of a crisis often cannot be undone. The only remedy for distress is to change the internal experience.