People tend to underestimate their potential during times of crisis, assuming they cannot cope well enough under immense pressure, or that hopefully, at best, they can cope sufficiently to merely endure such extreme events. The reality is that most people are stronger, more resilient, and much more capable of enduring hardship than they assume. Most of us underestimate our potential and sell ourselves short in the face of crisis events.
By crisis events, we mean extreme negative events that overwhelm our normal capacity to cope. Common examples include natural disasters, mass shootings, and accidents leading to loss of life. Right now, we are living through an ongoing series of crises including extreme social unrest, the global pandemic, economic turmoil, and mass unemployment.
Strong negative reactions are normal during crisis events: anger, disbelief, disgust, fear, and sadness are common emotions experienced by many. There can be a sense that your cup is running over as new demands continue to pour on – or that your cup has been knocked off the table – or that the table itself has been destroyed by forces outside of your control.
Your responses and reactions to these situations are very important. Now is a perfect time to review specific actions that can help reinforce your coping and strengthen your resilience. You can even develop new skills and capabilities, leverage your strengths, and reveal untapped potential that would otherwise remain dormant, were it not for the impact of such extreme stressors.
1. Embrace the Suck
In the midst of chaotic and high-risk events, it is important to embrace the new reality as rapidly as possible. “Embrace the suck” is a term used in the military to capture the vital importance of fully accepting a situation as it is, no matter how negative, so that you can rapidly adjust to the new reality. Embracing the suck is often associated with a renewed sense of calm, because you are accepting what is, and once you embrace the suck of a situation, you can adjust your strategies and tactics to the new reality, maximizing your responsiveness and effectiveness.
2. Safety First
Safety is the highest priority during crisis events. In the midst of the pandemic, for example, wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), minimize your exposure risk as much as possible, and stay current with CDC guidelines and recommendations. First responders and medical professionals serving on the front lines tend to place such a high priority on protecting and caring for others that their own safety and well-being can become deprioritized and compromised. Don’t let this happen to you – your own safety, health, and well-being are extremely important and must be protected.
3. Mission Control
Crisis events disrupt our sense of control and it’s critical to place yourself back in the driver’s seat as rapidly as possible. First, make a conscious decision to focus your time, effort, and energy on your “Sphere of Control” – those things which you can positively influence. There is only so much time in a day, so invest every precious minute on how you can make a positive difference. Second, remind yourself of your mission, your values, and your purpose in life – the things that matter most to you. Third, take steps to align your behaviors, your words, and your thinking with the ideal version of yourself. This way, your actions will better reflect your authentic goals and ideals, rather than a series of negative reactions to events outside of your control.
4. Avoid Signature Risk Patterns
In response to stressful events, our bodies release hormones that increase the risk of negative coping. Think of these stress-induced negative behaviors as signature risk patterns, whether it be eating too much junk food, spending too much time online, drinking too much, gambling, shoplifting, abusing drugs, or promiscuity. The key is to recognize your own signature risk pattern and take control to avoid going in an unhealthy direction.
5. Reinforce the Fundamentals
Getting plenty of exercise, sufficient sleep, eating healthy, and maintaining strong relationships are four well-established keys to maintaining physical and mental health and wellness. During crisis events, when normal routines and patterns have been disrupted, take the opportunity to double-down on the fundamentals of healthy living. Go out of your way to schedule time for exercise and sleep, force yourself (if necessary) to eat healthy and socialize with people you trust and who treat you well. Establishing and reinforcing these healthy patterns in your life will place you in a much stronger position over time.
6. Strengthen Your Mind
It’s often been said that the greatest enemy we face is the one looking back at us in the mirror. Do not allow yourself to fall into patterns of negative thinking. Instead, practice deep breathing exercises (e.g., box breathing and combat breathing) and train yourself to clear your mind and strengthen your control over your thought processes. Just as you wouldn’t neglect your arms or legs or abs in the gym, don’t neglect your mind when working to keep yourself healthy and fit.
7. Reach Out
You are not alone. Make sure to reach out and ask for help if you could use a hand. Reach out to trusted friends and family. Reach out to peer support, chaplain support, or a high-quality therapist. Call a help line. Also, reach out to colleagues, friends, family, and others who may also be experiencing challenges during these difficult times. Reassuring and comforting others can be one of the most effective ways to recover as a team. Lastly, always remember to be patient and compassionate with yourself and others who may be experiencing stress.
Wrapping it All Together
Your responses and reactions to crisis events can help strengthen your resilience and your wellness. Make sure to place yourself in control, prioritize safety, focus on what you can positively influence, prioritize your mental and physical wellness, and reach out for help. This too shall pass, and together we can get through anything.