Surviving Crisis

Caution: Storms Ahead

One day we’re strolling through time with no major hiccups. A few clouds drift through the blue sky and disappear without effort. Another day a storm hits and floods our surroundings with torrential water, fierce winds and dark skies. Despite the storm’s attempts to demolish everything in sight, we somehow figure out a way to safety. Disheveled but not destroyed, we slowly practice recovery and regain stability.


 “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” -Willa Cather

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” -Willa Cather

With or without warning, something Very Difficult and out-of-the-ordinary arrives on the scene -  suddenly catapulting us into crisis. Life changes its steady course and we are swept under its forceful wake. Overwhelmed, we reach for anyone or anything which can lift us through this major shift. The burden of managing shock and uncertainty is added to our standard "To Do" list. 

Crisis feels like we’re trekking through heavy mud and rain. Solid ground is somewhere out there. It’s our job to locate the anchors to clean sludge off our boots and get back on track.

In the Eye of the Storm

Sylvia has lost track of time ever since her sister Juliette had a heart attack. Their parents passed away a few years ago. No other family is available for emotional support or to handle medical appointments and household chores. Sylvia works full-time and is a single mom to 11-year-old Thomas. The crisis of the heart attack has created a new level of fear in Sylvia and Juliette. Without family or dependable health, they feel incredibly vulnerable, isolated and lost. Throughout the day they encounter waves of anxiety about the future and whether or not they can sustain another crisis. Instead of problem-solving with a long-term care plan for her, Juliette and Thomas, Sylvia doesn’t want to believe bad things are happening. She doesn’t want to panic or admit to herself or anyone else she needs to do anything at all.

During a lunch break, Sylvia searched online for solutions to reduce distress, minimize anxiety and establish peace. She decided on a Wellness Coaching approach addressing the whole person. Sylvia’s coach outlined a roadmap with the following goals in mind:

Give up mental denial.

Whenever crisis shows up our brain (the Amygdala) fires up and quickly searches its files to make decisions. If we don’t give the brain a safe place to drive all of this incoming stress and energy we fog up our senses and may not make good choices. The mind undergoes three stages of coping with crisis: denial deliberation and decisive action. If we don’t move through all three stages our brain prolongs the crisis state.

Right away, Sylvia knew her brain did not transition out of denial mode. She declared she had enough positive energy to move out of denial and into deliberation and decisive action.

In deliberation mode Sylvia had imagined her existing outlook and asked her brain to consider several questions:

  1. What are at least two alternate scenarios can lead me to lower stress, anxiety and greater peace?

  2. Who else is willing to help if we need it?

  3. What is my plan for “Being Still” in chaos?

With her answers written down, Sylvia could share them with Juliette and Thomas. Together they create workable and reasonable options. This plan was encouraging to them, especially while embroiled in high stress.

When the time for decisive action arrives and their world flips upside down, each person will assume a specific role:

  1. All three will close their eyes, take a deep breath and say a prayer.

  2. Juliette will assess the situation and direct Sylvia on what she needs.

  3. Sylvia will put a short-term plan in motion to diffuse intense emotions and prevent conflict.

  4. Juliette will make sure there is a bag of important papers packed and ready to go.

Trust the process not the fear.

We can take lessons from corporate America around the topic of trust in times of crisis. In 2015 Volkswagen claimed its cars were more environmentally friendly than other cars during emissions tests. “The company placed “defeat device”software on millions of its diesel-powered cars. During mandated emission tests, the vehicle suddenly appears more environmentally-friendly than it actually is.” How does Volkswagen address this crisis of public trust and return to selling cars? Professional corporate crisis experts advise companies to regain trust by adopting messaging which reestablishes a sense of "higher purpose" in their relationship bonds of trust with the customer. The customer needs to know the company truly cares about their safety and well-being.

The crushing blow of Juliette’s heart attack necessitated a new set of coping tools. Sylvia’s emotions were at a crossroads. Her emotions froze any time she had to make decisions. She could tell the exhaustion was more than physical.

Before Sylvia could use these new tools, she had to trust herself. Her coach advised her to focus on the higher purpose of being peaceful and deliberately choosing to walk away from stress and anxiety. The following exercise allowed Sylvia to honor the trustworthy messages inside her heart:

  • Lie down with both hands on her heart.

  • Take a few breaths and quiet the mind.

  • Call on her most loving self.

  • Listen to the quiet inner voice.

  • Reminded herself it is okay to trust her gut and embrace her choices.

  • Tell herself she is free to change her mind at anytime.

Release the crisis.

If the memory of a crisis inflicts raw and painful reactions months or years later, then the wound remains open. Small adjustments can soften the story and lead to great progress.

With enough trust, Sylvia awoke each day asking the Divine to show her a strengths-based perspective on the crisis. Sylvia’s awakening included:

  • Express gratitude for the people and experiences that engender calm and relaxation.

  • Shift from disturbance to harmony.

  • Allow being seen and held by others in tough times.

  • Recognize that blame/suffering/guilt/shame is not an investment in Higher Purpose.

  • Look at the bigger picture and shed limiting beliefs.

Emerge from the rubble.

To emerge means to show up. Instead of re-living the experience from a unsettled place try to understand it from the place we stand in right now. The present moment makes room for the story to be added as another completed chapter in life. It does not need to fill every page of an entire book. By writing new chapters we make room for a final chapter and an ending.

Rising up for Sylvia had included a daily check-in. By invoking the Divine for strength and perspective, Sylvia’s day had the capacity to sustain her commitment to contentment and living in the present.