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Coping with Crises
By Betty Hughes, Ph.D., LMHC


Are you experiencing a crisis now? If so, it is important to discern whether you need professional help immediately or whether to just call a family member or a friend.

For the purpose of this article, crisis is defined as an adverse circumstance that is out of the ordinary for you but still within the scope of expectation for people in general. Examples include job loss, diagnosis of a major medical problem, loss of a loved one through death or divorce, or severe marital or family problems.

When you find yourself in crisis, that is the time to take care of you. Remind yourself that the adversity has already happened or is in the process of happening, so technically it is in the past. It cannot be undone. You may need to do some things in the immediate future to tie up loose ends, of course. But now, in the present, is the time to slow things down if you possibly can. Take some time to clear your mind and focus your attention. Depending on the state of circumstances, you may only have a few minutes or you may have a few days or weeks or even more.

Take some deep breaths and tell yourself that you are in the process of resolving this crisis. Tell your body to relax, and imagine a relative sense of calm. Once you feel more centered, begin to list your options. Use the brainstorming technique of listing whatever comes to mind, without judgment.

Next, begin to focus on time segments. What are some things you can do immediately, things to do for the day, week, month, and so forth? It does not matter whether you actually do these things for that will bring in judgment and criticism. It is just a way to calm yourself and begin to form a feeling of structure.

Once you feel grounded, pay attention to the four major components of who you are: body, mind, emotions, and spirit. What can you do to bring each of these into greater relative balance? Remember to just list techniques first, and then you will have a variety of things as options. Sometimes a particular technique will work better than others. Following are a few ideas for each area, but preferably you will add what has worked for you in the past or things that you would like to try in the future:

Body: Focus on what will rest, relax, and rejuvenate you.
1. Extra sleep
2. Walking or other exercise that is appropriate for you
3. Gardening
4. Good nutrition
5. Continue to add your own ideas

Mind: Focus on what will bring calm, clarity, and clear thinking.
1. Affirmations
2. Positive thinking (and challenge negative thoughts)
3. Meditation
4. Deliberate distraction by thinking of something else
5. Continue to add your own ideas

Emotions: Focus on what will bring a feeling of peace, poise, and
personal power.
1. Affirmations
2. Forgiveness
3. Visualizing a better future
4. Deliberately think of things that make you feel better
5. Continue to add your own ideas

Spirit: Focus on what will inspire you, connect you to your
intuition, and interconnect you to both inner guidance and
external support.
1. Meditation and/or prayer
2. Gratitude List
3. Journaling
4. Reading inspirational information, talking to a friend, a spiritual advisor, or a therapist
5. Continue to add your own ideas

It may help to conceptualize your crisis as consisting of three phases. The first phase is recognizing that some important part of your life has come to an end or is in the process of coming to an end. You may have strong emotional reactions for quite a while, including the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) (Kubler-Ross (1965). Grief is normal, even in crises such as job loss or loss of a dream. It is a gradual letting go.

At first you may only be able to superficially acknowledge the reality of the crisis. This is okay; from there you can further acknowledge that although you cannot change the circumstances of your crisis, you can revise your attitude toward it.

Most situations have both a positive aspect and a negative aspect. Take time to look at both, but minimize the negative and concentrate on the positive. Work at understanding what happened and any part you might have played. Refuse to allow yourself to criticize and judge. If the crisis is ongoing, imagine what ending you would like to have. You are simply gathering information and resolving the emotional turmoil.

In the middle phase, you deepen your understanding and begin to learn more about yourself. How can you ease the pain of the crisis and make it result in new insights? Can you find a “blessing in disguise”? Can you make plans that would prevent a similar crisis in the future? Can you find some way to add meaning to your experience? What would you like to do now?

In the last phase, you begin anew. This is the time of taking action. It is possible that the new beginning can be better in some way. It is also possible that the new beginning can include completely new ideas and ways of being. Or, you may find it more helpful to not compare the two at all, to see them as totally separate experiences.

In conclusion, remember that crises are frightening times of transition. Honor your feelings, but limit how much time you spend in feeling the pain. Gather information, and then take time to analyze the information and make your own decisions. You can learn to rise above whatever has occurred and make a new life for yourself. You can learn to survive and even thrive in the new beginning.

Affirmations to Try:

“I love and approve of myself.” – Louise Hay

“I could see peace instead of this.” -- A Course in Miracles

“I am in the process of becoming more. I believe in me.”

“I am taking charge of my life. I feel encouraged.”

“A better future is on the way. I can see it coming.”


Bridges, William (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes.
Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Day, Laura (2006). Welcome to your crisis: How to use the power of crisis to create the life you want.
New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Kubler-Ross (1975). Death: The final stage of growth. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice-Hall

Perkins-Reed, Marcia (1996). Thriving in Transition: Effective Living In Times of Change.
New York: Simon & Schuster.



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