How to Stay Calm in a Crisis

How to Stay Calm in a Crisis

Every now and then, things will go badly wrong. Someone will be injured, you will get lost, or you will find out that you’ve just lost a huge amount of money.

Your natural reaction now may be to panic. After all, why wouldn’t you get in a fluster? What will you do now that you’ve lost the money? What will happen to your friend or relative who just fainted and is now lying there looking very unwell?

But while panicking is natural, it’s also entirely unhelpful. If this is your response, then you will be likely to make matters worse not better and you will potentially cause more problems than you solve.

The best response is to stay calm and robotic. You may appear cold and emotionless, but this is the most efficient and useful way to react to such a situation. This is how you’re going to help everyone deal with the problem – you can panic, cry or mourn later.

The question though, is how you can overcome that initial emotional response. How can you keep cool when everything is going awry around you?

Breathe and Slow Down

The first thing to do is to step back and take a moment to breathe and to assess the situation.

That initial urge to rush in or to cry is caused by a flood of adrenaline – your fight or flight hormone. This can be immensely useful for fuelling your reaction speed, increasing muscular strength and more. Unfortunately, it also suppresses activity in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that we use for future planning and reasoning.

So instead, you need to learn to control your breathing and to calm yourself down. This will reactivate your ‘rest and digest’ state via your parasympathetic nervous system. So breathe in through the stomach deeply and then let it fill your lungs.

You are not in a massive rush. If you rush, you will make matters worse. Even in time critical situations, remember the adage: less haste, more speed.

Look for the Answer


Now look for the best solution the problem at hand. Try to remove yourself emotionally from the situation by looking at it as an outsider. Think of this like an exercise and try to narrow down your actions to the most useful few options.

While in this scenario, you might be afraid to act. Each action you consider will likely have the risk of a negative outcome and might still make matters worse. But once you’ve considered carefully the options and efficiently weighed up the best course of action, the next step is simply to act. Even if you are uncertain, take positive and decisive action.

Doing this means accepting the possibility that things might go wrong and that it might be your fault. In other words, it means accepting your responsibility and being willing to shoulder that responsibility if necessary. It means being able and willing to put yourself out on a limb and to face the storm that might come.

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Starfish Therapeutic Story

This story is addressed primarily to persons who find themselves holding a standard for meaningfulness that says, “unless the doing of something represents a grand and glorious and earthshaking accomplishment, it isn’t worth doing.”

While perhaps they have never explicitly articulated this, they find themselves, in the face of everyday mundane activities or projects, reluctant to do them since they seem so trivial and unimportant.

 

A man is walking down the beach early one morning. He notices that thousands and thousands of starfish have been washed up on the beach by the tide, and are now stranded and dying. As he walks on, he sees a little girl who is going around, picking up starfish, and flinging them with all her might back into the water. He goes up to her just as she is about to fling another and, stopping her, says, ‘Little girl, you’re wasting your time. Can’t you see that there are thousands of starfish here and that it’s impossible to get them all back into the ocean. You can’t begin to make a difference.’ The little girl, after pausing to hear the man out, shrugs and flings the starfish in her hand into the ocean. “I made a difference to that one,” she says (adapted from Eiseley, 1979).


This story is addressed primarily to persons who find themselves holding a standard for meaningfulness that says, “unless the doing of something represents a grand and glorious and earthshaking accomplishment, it isn’t worth doing.” While perhaps they have never explicitly articulated this, they find themselves, in the face of everyday mundane activities or projects, reluctant to do them since they seem so trivial and unimportant.

Commentary. An old saying has it that “It’s the measuring stick that kills.” If we pose as our standard for some course of action being worth doing that it must accomplish something on a grand scale, the danger arises that nothing is deemed worth doing, we fail to act, our lives are rendered more impoverished, and the lives of those around us suffer from our paralysis and our grandiosity.

If, in contrast, we recognize the value in more modest endeavors, our lives, our ability to act, our sense of meaningfullness, and the lives of others all benefit. If one can change the world for the better, by all means change it.

But if, like the overwhelming majority of humankind, one cannot, it is critically important to recognize the value in benefitting one’s little corner of the world, and to act on that. In the words of Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

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