No one will ever live a life so fortunate as to escape living through at least one crisis. Traumatic events such as job loss, divorce, sexual assault, or the death of a loved one can throw a life into upheaval and create a dangerous mix of grief, anger, depression, and hopelessness. This can lead to permanent psychological and emotional harm if not dealt with in a healthy and constructive manner.
What is a crisis?
A crisis is “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending.” (Webster’s Dictionary) Crises are not necessarily about trauma but a reaction to it. Because all individuals have different psychological makeups, an event that creates a crisis for one individual may not create one for another.
As often noted, the Chinese “word” for crisis combines two individual characters that closely represent “danger” and “opportunity”. A challenging event creates a crossroads in an individual’s life that can either lead to personal growth or transition to greater dysfunction.
How do I know if I’m experiencing a crisis?
You are experiencing a crisis when an event causes you to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with its repercussions. Events that trigger an emergency are not always external. An “internal event” such as a new psychological awareness that challenges or destroys an important personal belief can trigger a crisis.
The following are indicators that you may be experiencing a crisis. Not all individuals experience every one.
Anger or rage
Withdrawal from friends and family
Flashbacks to the crisis event
Inability to concentrate
Disrupted sleep patterns or insomnia
Lack of appetite
How do I cope with my crisis?
1. Reach out to trusted friends or family
The most important action that you can take when experiencing a crisis is reaching out for support from friends or family. A crisis not only creates the need to talk through your feelings, but it also has a way of making everyday tasks difficult to accomplish alone.
When loved ones offer their time and support, take it. A heartfelt thank you is all that is necessary in return. Do not allow guilt or pride to prevent you from receiving the help you need.
2. Consider taking time off work
Consider whether informing your employer of your circumstances and asking for needed time off or other accommodation is necessary to help you cope and recover. Refusal to look for, or accept support, is a mistake and can make it more difficult to gain the advantage resulting from a crisis.
3. Try to stick to your routines
Because of the disruptive nature of the types of events that trigger crises, adhering to your existing daily schedule will help you maintain a sense of normalcy and calm. Structure is key. Sticking to your regular routine helps combat the physical and psychological effects of a crisis. Sitting down to eat for every meal, even if you are not hungry will help to keep your food intake at healthy levels.
Going to bed at the same time every night will help to combat insomnia.
4. Avoid drugs and alcohol
Stay away from mood altering use of substances during this period, as they can delay the healing process or even compound your problems.
5. Delay important decisions
Big decisions often accompany a crisis. If possible, try to delay important life decisions like changing jobs or selling your home in the face of crisis.
6. Do not hesitate to seek professional help
A crisis that remains ongoing signals a need to consult with a mental health professional. An objective source of such help will provide relief and enable you to make effective decisions as you go forward.