3 Ways to Navigate Crisis
Hurricane Ian made landfall.
What a powerful and destructive storm!
As curfews lifted this morning, I navigated out on the roads to check on our office space. I looked around at the trees, the roads, the properties, and they looked like they had just experienced a trauma. They had! There were downed power lines, flooding of streets and homes, light poles snapped in half, trees uprooted and knocked over, roofs missing, and debris scattered all over. The clouds were still in the sky, and the trees still standing looked heavy and burdened.
As I continued navigating throughout the day, the sun came out and the blue skies were above. There were utility trucks and workers from several states in the country working hard to restore power. I saw people working together to cut trees and move them, clean up debris, and reroute drivers who were going to enter a flooded road.
Recovery and restoration were beginning!
Navigating a natural disaster or trauma is taxing. It is a complex situation that requires coping skills and support. Following a traumatic event, you may notice increased stress and anxiety, thoughts racing or feeling frantic, decreased sleep. Or you may feel more irritable, cry more easily, feel overwhelmed by daily tasks, or even be angry. Others may feel numb, in shock, or helpless. All of these responses are typical after experiencing a traumatic event.
Here are three skills to implement in the aftermath of a traumatic event or crisis situation.
This is a basic practice, yet so often ignored in the moment. When your nervous system is in a state of trauma, on high alert and overloaded, it is crucial that you pause and take a deep breath. Try a simple breathing exercise where you inhale for four counts, hold your breath, and then exhale for six counts. Your exhale needs to be longer than your inhale. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a mantra that you say to yourself while you breathe. For example, as you inhale, think to yourself “I can do this” and on the exhale think “one step at a time.” Or you can use whatever mantra feels right for you. Continue to be intentional about breathing during the recovery process.
2. Problem Solve
If there is something that can be resolved, it is time to use your problem solving skills. Make a list as you identify the things that need attention. When each one stays in your mind, it can feel overwhelming and can be hard to focus on one thing at a time. The practice of writing each one down, allows your brain to let it rest while you focus on just the next thing. If the other items on the list begin to bombard your mind, pause, write it back down, and intentionally shift your focus to what you are doing in the moment. For example, I may have a list that includes…
Call the insurance company
Take pictures of damage
Clean up yard debris
Look at children’s school announcements for when they can return
The list can be as detailed as you need it to be. Notice that meals, rest, and receiving help are included! Basic needs are important to meet in order to maintain stability, or return to a place of stability after a crisis. Sleep, nutrition, and support are key elements in trauma recovery.
If the list above feels too hard to do, and you are still overwhelmed, here are some options of how to problem solve. In times of crisis, it can be difficult to even know where to begin as our thinking brain is not always on line and we are reacting from a place of high stress or intensity. Here are some steps to follow:
Identify the problem
Brainstorm as many options as you can think of to remedy the problem
Look at pros/cons of each option
Decide which option is best for you and your situation
Implement the plan (this could include making the list referenced above)
3. Tolerate Distress
When in a place of crisis, trauma response, or high distress, using skills that can help you tolerate the situation, or elevated distress, are helpful. These skills are important to use when you notice yourself in a state of overwhelm and when you can’t necessarily change the situation. For example, the hurricane came, the impact experienced, the damage done. You can’t change reality but you can implement distress tolerance skills to help you navigate the situation until it changes, repairs can be made, and healing occurs. Here are a couple distress tolerance skills you can try.
Dive Reflex – If you are a scuba diver, this skill will be familiar. If you aren’t, you can you tube “dive reflex” and you will see a video that explains it. Basically, when scuba diving, the dive reflex allows a person to tolerate a decreased level of oxygen and survive. When this reflex is activated, the body reduces oxygen, blood pressure, and temperature and the blood flow is directed to the brain and the heart. We can mimic this response by covering the nose and eyes in cold water while holding your breath. You can fill a sink, or get a bowl of cold water, hold your breath, and dip your face into the water as long as you can. Come up, breathe, and then do it again. As you do this, your heart rate will slow down, your breathing will be more regulated after, and your body physiologically will slow down. If you don’t want to submerge your face in water, you can get an ice pack, or a bag of frozen vegetables, and cover your eye area and nose, hold your breath as long as you can, and then breathe. It will provide similar results.
Self-soothe with your five senses – Identify things that are soothing, calming, and nurturing for you. Look at each of your five senses and pick a handful of things to try. It may be a good smelling lotion or essential oil, it may be looking at pictures that are calming, touching a soft blanket, tasting your favorite hot beverage, or hearing your favorite music. When in a state of distress or crisis, intentionally allow yourself to engage in soothing activities through your five senses.
Improve the moment you are in – Even though the situation may feel dire, the anxiety high, the after effects of trauma burdening, looking for ways to improve the moment you are in can be helpful. On a scale of 0-10, if the distress is a 10 out of 10, what is something you can do to make it a 9? Or even an 8? Can you call a friend to help, can you talk on the phone to someone, can you listen to your favorite music as you clean debris? How about doing something enjoyable when you are done? A colleague and friend of mine sent pictures of her family paddle boarding in the backyard due to it being flooded. They took a distressing situation and improved the moment to make it more tolerable.
These skills are not designed to remove the problem or take away the emotional impact. Rather, they are meant to help the situation be a little more tolerable until the situation resolves, changes, or you feel differently about it. These skills also will not feel “easy” to do. Nothing will in a time of distress or crisis post trauma. However, being intentional is key, so that a painful situation is not made worse.
You can get through this!
It may not be easy, it is not something that you wanted to occur, but you can recover! Allow people to support you, try to take one thing at a time, and reach out to a trauma therapist or crisis response counselor if needed.
Hope and Healing are possible!