We face crises every day. Whether it’s that your car won’t start, your doctor is running late throwing off your whole day, the coffeemaker isn’t working, or you have a wardrobe malfunction, we face challenges daily. Depending on our mood and how the rest of our day has gone, it likely changes how we respond to these crises. Some people face more major crises: cancer diagnoses, losing their job, making a bad investment, ending a long-term relationship, etc.
Did you know that there was an intern whose FIFTH DAY on the job working for U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was the day she was shot in the supermarket parking lot? Or a recent college grad happened to be on a bike trip in Colorado and decided to go to the movies with friends the day there was a shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, CO? These are far more significant crises. I have mentioned this a great deal over the last few months, but we are living through several high stress crises: a global pandemic, economic turmoil, a racial injustice movement that is compared to the civil rights movement, the entire west coast dealing with fires and smoke, and an extremely heated election year.
How can you know how you’ll respond to these crises? “At times of crisis, many people respond in ‘fight or flight,’ which is the body’s primitive response to a perceived threat or attack,” explains Laura Streyffeler, Ph.D., a psychologist in Florida who specializes in traumatic stress. “Often the body appears to go on ‘auto-pilot.’ I have found that the more prepared and balanced a person is in his or her life, the more likely he or she will be more proactive than reactive during the crisis or event.”
Staying calm in a crisis is essential and the decisions you make can be critical. When starting to feel the physical effects of flight or fight (heart palpitations, sweating, irritability, anxiety, and more), it is important to attempt to manage the crisis to avoid chronic stress or physical illness. Stressful events force us to make choices. Even the stress we feel in everyday crises can become chronic if we don’t learn to manage it. Chronic stress can make us sick, prevent motivation, and lead to long term psychological disorders. We need to learn to control our dissatisfaction and disappointment in situations, express our frustrations, and not dwell on frustrations. Simply living in the moment can be a huge factor to all of this. Not worrying about the future or focusing on the past can help us to see what is currently in front of us in the moment to make the best choices possible.
Another great way to prepare for crises is to have a plan. Have an evacuation plan in case of fire. Know what to do if you happen to come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. Take days off from reading, watching, or listening to the News if that seems to affect you negatively while also balancing that with remaining informed. Build a community you can rely on in case of a crisis (neighbors, friends, family, a faith-based organization, etc.).
Here are 10 ways to help you stay calm in a crisis:
- Practice daily exercise
- Go outside
- Take some deep breaths
- Believe you are in control of your environment
- Enjoy a cup of tea
- Write in a journal
- Find a new activity to keep your mind from racing/wandering
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
- Get plenty of good quality sleep
- Avoid drugs and alcohol
Get immediate help in a crisis:
- Call 911
- Disaster Distress Hotline – 1-800-985-5990
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)