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When You Are Going Through Hell, Keep Going! Coping with Crisis

By Edward Leigh, MA

The title of this article is actually a quote from Winston Churchill. I hesitated using the quote because of the "H word." I consulted with several colleagues about this word and they jokingly told me they were surprised I even thought that word would be a problem! This quote is perfect because crisis can feel like hell! The most important point to this quote is that we need to keep moving and we will get through it. I saw Cher on a TV interview and she was asked how she copes with crisis. She said, "I just put one foot in front of the other." In other words, she keeps moving! Don't get stuck in the crisis, keep moving. Wallowing in the crisis can be devastating both psychologically and physically.

Definition of Crisis

The dictionary has a variety of definitions for crisis; however, two have a great deal of impact:

  • An emotionally stressful event or traumatic change in a person's life.
  • A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.

Most people of think of crisis as a difficult life event, as we see in the first definition. However the second definition discusses crisis as a "turning point." Crisis situations are not easy, but if we look at these events as a time for a new beginning, then we can develop the skills to make it through the rough times.

Everyone has a different interpretation of what exactly a crisis is for them. What is a crisis for one person may not be a crisis for another person. We must be careful not to be judgmental. Years ago, I saw an Oprah Show where one lady was very depressed and did not want to go out of the house. The reason – she felt her hair was too frizzy! My first thought, "This lady does not know what crisis means!" The more I thought about it, I have no right to define crisis for another person. We must accept everyone's perception of what crisis means to them.

Preparing for Crisis

Sometimes crisis just happens, like sudden serious illnesses or car accidents. We can't plan ahead for these life events, however we could plan ahead with coping skills. The more developed our coping skills, the better chance we will have to deal with the crisis in an effective manner.

Practice Prevention. Let’s say you are driving and then suddenly your car starts to sputter. Your car is now hardly moving and you need to pull off the side of tithe ride. This could happen to anyone, however is it more likely to happen to a person who takes great care of their car (e.g., regular checks ups) or a person who never takes their car in for wellness checks? Of course, the person who does not practice prevention is more likely to run into trouble. This is the same with life, the better prepared you are, the less likely certain types of crisis will occur in the first place.

Learn Coping Skills. The bigger your reservoir of tools, the more likely you will cope when something happens. These tools include stress management activities, such as meditation and yoga. When life gets bumpy, you will know what to do to help bring some calm. Another key factor is organizational skills. When crisis occurs, will you know where everything is located? My wife, Beth, and I experienced a power surge recently (based on stormy weather). All our insurance information was precisely filed, so we knew exactly where it was and how to proceed. The more fine tuned your skills, the more efficiently you will cope when crisis hits.

When Crisis Strikes

Everyone will experience crisis in their lives. The question is not if it will happen, rather when it will happen. Even with careful planning, life events will still happen. In addition to using our toolbox of previously learned coping skills, there are other activities to help us with crisis:

Focus on Positive Self Talk. When going through hard times, do not say to yourself, "I can’t cope. I will never get through this." Rather, replace your self talk with positive comments, "I will get through this. I will find the strength to cope."

Develop a Plan. I am no stranger to crisis. After my cancer diagnosis, I developed a plan, which included researching my type of cancer and learning about surgeries / chemotherapy regimens. My plan also included a psychosocial component, including joining both an online and in-person support group.

Reach Out to Others. There are many people who could help us, such as family members and friends. People in crisis soemtimes pull away from the very interpersonal relationships that they need most at the time. It is important to be aware that positive interpersonal relationships foster adaptive crisis resolution. People experiencing crisis, therefore, need other caring people in their lives. Often times, just sharing the crisis with others can relieve a great deal of the burden. Help from qualified mental health professionals can also be very available. Do not feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness – it is a sign of strength!

Get Information. What ever your crisis involves, there is information to help you. Go on the Internet. Call a library. Being well informed will help you deal with the situation. Be sure the information you are getting is legitimate. There is a great deal of misinformation out there and it is critical to determine if the information is valid.

How to Get to Carnegie Hall

A man is walking down the street in New York City; he is on his way to attend a theater event and is lost. He walks up to another person and asks, "Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" The person tells him, "Practice, practice, practice." If we want to cope effectively with crisis, we need to keep practicing our coping skills, so when crisis occurs we’ll be ready for the challenge!

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