Friday, January 22, 2010

Responding to a crisis

The pastor of my Quaker meeting sent me a postcard after I first visited the church, ten years ago now. It says
    I Am a Quaker.
    In Case of Emergency
    Please Be Quiet.
That postcard is still hanging right here in my line of sight, just over my monitor. It hangs there in large part because it says something true about who I am and how I approach things. When life speeds up too much, when crises come, when friends struggle, my first instinct is to slow down, to pray, to listen carefully, to tune into my heart.

Here's what we know about crisis:
  • Crisis throws your normal way of doing things up in the air.
  • Crisis can bring panic.
  • Crisis interrupts what you know about your life or yourself and makes you scramble to figure out what to do next.
  • You feel out of control in a crisis.
  • It's hard to see clearly in a crisis.
  • Emotions are very loud in a crisis, and problem-solving (which comes more from the rational parts of our brains) has trouble being heard.
  • Crisis often involves others as well as you, so you are dealing with the chaotic feelings and fears of many people--not just your own.
  • Our sense of "shoulds" can get stirred up in a crisis ("I should be handling this better," or "I shouldn't cry," or "My dad would have known what to do about this--but I don't.")
So what constitutes a crisis? Often we think of a crisis as something horrible--a car wreck, a divorce, a lost job, a bankruptcy, an illness. Yes, crisis can be triggered by all of those things, but you can also get thrown into crisis in the middle of good or growth-inducing things as well:
  • you get married
  • you find that job you've been looking for
  • you have a baby
  • you start training for a new position
  • you buy a great new house
  • you take a major step toward a new dream
In short, any time you step boldly--or get thrown--into the unknown, you can feel lost, uncertain, and unsure of what to do next. You are out of your comfort zone, and that can potentially trigger a crisis response.

Some situations resolve all on their own--you get used to the new job, you fall in love with your baby, your dream gains momentum and you feel more confident about it. In those situations, some simple techniques can help us support ourselves while crisis situations are working themselves out:
  • take three deep breaths and exhale completely;
  • say a favorite prayer or mantra;
  • focus your eyes intentionally on one beautiful thing and really feel it;
  • use an old EMDR trick to look straight ahead and then move your eyes first as far left as you can and then far right. Doing this a few times gets each side of your brain talking to the other, which increases oxygen and helps you feel more able to problem solve;
  • recount the facts of the situation to yourself or others. This anchors the situation to what's really happening and turns down the volume on the fears, anxieties, and "what ifs";
  • begin naming everything you can think of to be grateful for. I know this one sounds difficult, especially if there's a lot of upset in the situation, but I'm convinced that there is always something to be grateful for--even if it's only that you don't have to face the circumstance alone (which is a major blessing).
When the crisis situation is too big or threatening--or you simply need or want some extra support--reach out to people around you. Your pastor or spiritual leader knows how to be with you in crisis; your doctor can recommend a counselor; various agencies can offer a collection of resources. Spiritual direction also helps us explore where we draw the resources to meet the crises in our lives. There is always another view--God's view--and being open to that view, even in the midst of a chaotic and scary time, can bring peace, and calm, and healing.

Many blessings--beauty, joy, peace, and light--right where you are today!

No comments: