An acute crisis presents us with great challenges. We feel helpless and see no way out. Our mental and sometimes physical balance is lost. Good to know: most crises have an almost identical sequence: shock, reaction, processing and reorientation. So it takes the valley of tears before things start to look up again. We can often influence the speed of this process ourselves.
The word “crisis” comes from the Greek. Originally, it meant “judgement” or “decision” – in other words, it was neutral. Only later did it acquire the additional meaning of “intensification”. A crisis is therefore the culmination of a negative development We are therefore in an extreme situation that we cannot deal with at that moment.
Crises can have many external triggers: Illnesses, deaths, separations, dismissals or other strong professional changes. But they can also be crises of meaning and life that make us despair. What happens when we experience an acute crisis:
- Psychological level: we feel strong anxiety, feel helpless and see no way out. We are tense and our thoughts go round in circles, are focused only on the problem (tunnel vision) and are often irrational. We suffer from concentration difficulties and are quickly irritated.
- Physical level: Sleep causes us problems. We may have palpitations, stomach/intestinal problems or headaches. Either we have no appetite or suffer from binge eating.
- Social level: We withdraw.
So we don’t function in a crisis as we did before. We feel that the coping strategies we had worked out before are useless.
The four phases of a crisis
It is important to know: all crises pass, even if you may not believe it in the acute stage. No two crises are alike, but almost all follow the same pattern:
- Shock: We are paralysed and sometimes deny reality, i.e. we don’t want to acknowledge the event that has happened.
- Reaction: Slowly we become aware that the event is a fact. Then strong negative feelings arise in us (e.g. fear, anger, aggression). Some people even go into resistance against the fact – although this is actually a contradiction in terms. But clear thinking is not possible in this phase.
- Processing: We can accept what has happened and begin to look for solutions.
- Reorientation: We get momentum again by reorienting ourselves (within ourselves and towards the outside). We thus come into action.
Danger and opportunity
The written Chinese word for crisis consists of two characters: Danger and Opportunity. At the beginning, you only see the danger, the negative. But over time, ideally, you can also recognise that what has happened can trigger a positive development in you – unfortunately, you usually only realise this after you have dealt with it.
I once had a coaching client who had lost her job because of mobbying. She was very angry with her ex-boss, but over time she had to realise that her anger did her no good – she couldn’t undo her dismissal. Her anger only drained her of energy that she could better use for her reorientation.
When she was able to accept the fact of her dismissal and also realised that there was something positive about the situation (she no longer had to see her boss, with whom she did not get along at all…), she was able to look forward again, became active and after a short time found a great job that was even better than the one she had before.
Our thoughts have an influence
This true story shows that while we cannot change the fact that triggered our crisis with our thoughts, we can change the way we manage it (intensity, duration, outcome). Our thoughts create our reality. This is important for the tips I would like to give you:
- Do not go into resistance against the event that has happened. Otherwise you will be fighting against windmills – in other words, hopelessly. Try to accept the situation and invest your energy in overcoming the crisis. Take responsibility for yourself and try to make the best of the situation. Already the American singer Joan Baez said: “Action is the antidote to despair.”
- Repressing your strong feelings does no good. They will then simply seek a way to the surface by another means and perhaps later. Take them seriously, but don’t get lost in them. You can find out how to deal with anxiety here: https://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2020/12/01/how-can-i-overcome-my-fear-of-corona/.
- Try to limit your brooding time (e.g. with an alarm clock to 15 min.). Then consciously turn your attention back to the here and now. More on the topic of “being in the moment”: https://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2019/12/03/living-in-the-moment/.
- Even if your current situation is quite bad, there are certainly still positive things in your life. Consciously pay attention to them and use them to influence your thoughts. Here’s more on this: https://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2017/02/28/how-i-visualize-gratitude/.
- Get moving. Because the main stress hormone, cortisol, is best reduced through exercise. Exercise is good for your body and mind.
- Consciously do things that are good for you: Listen to music, dance, read, observe nature, go for a massage, etc.
- Your posture says how you feel. But you can also influence your feelings with an upright posture. I explain how to do this here: https://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2017/11/14/posture-influences-your-emotions/.
- Talk to other people about what is bothering you: with your family or friends. If this does not help enough, seek professional support.
So you have very different levels on which you can start in order to be able to cope with your crisis. The crucial thing is: be aware that you have a concrete influence on how quickly and how well you can overcome your crisis. Take action!
© Claudia Kraaz