| Family Reflections |

Crisis Management:  Part 1

Even during a crisis, we can feel calm


Every day brings its joys and challenges. In order to serve Hashem b’simchah, we need to know how to manage the challenges so they don’t end up taking center stage in our minds, hearts, and bodies. We can’t focus all our energy and attention on our problems and hope to live a healthy and happy life.

The skills we need for daily stress management will enhance our quality of life and service of Hashem. But when an actual crisis hits — death, injury, illness, divorce, the loss of a job — these stress-management protocols can literally save our lives and minds. Knowledge and use of daily stress-management skills offers excellent preparation for those rarer occasions when crisis management is necessary.

“We were packing the car for our family vacation when my husband fell to the ground. He’d suffered a profound stroke. I was in a state of shock in those early days, my life suddenly uprooted — everything in chaos. As the days of hospitalization rolled into weeks and months, my life continued to disintegrate. My husband was the one who had taken care of all the finances; the bills piling up were a mystery to me. Where were the accounts, the passwords, the credit cards? I couldn’t eat; in the middle of the night I’d wake up with my heart pounding and my hands sweating. In the daytime my mind was racing, I was short-tempered with the kids, I couldn’t think a straight thought. I was a complete wreck.”

Intense stress wreaks havoc on the nervous system, affecting mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual functioning. Everyone — even those whose jobs involve crisis management — feels the hit when the crisis is a personal one. Let’s look at some strategies we can use to address the impact of a crisis.

Physical Stabilization

Adrenaline and cortisol rush through the body in an attempt to mobilize its resources. People in crisis often need more physical strength and endurance, an ability to stay awake for endless hours, go without food, undertake strenuous and/or additional labor. While these chemicals help provide the fuel for all these activities, they also prevent and/or interrupt sleep, disrupt digestion, and inhibit cognitive processes such as problem-solving and memory.

Sleep deprivation further reduces cognitive processing and physical well-being, leading to a downhill slide in physical, emotional, and mental health.

The first step during a crisis is to stabilize our body. This means we have to find ways to reduce the overwhelming flow of stress chemistry. There are many ways of doing this. A doctor may offer short-term medical treatment. A naturopath will have a large collection of supplements and treatments that can help calm the nervous system as well. Treatments that calm the body and nervous system can also be tried: reflexology, acupuncture, cranio-sacral work, and more.

Before crisis hits, it’s a good idea to learn about and implement daily physical support for the nervous system. You can put together your own kit of “stay-healthy-stress busters” and use them daily to help support your immune system and reduce the toll of stress. These strategies can be augmented during times of crisis.

Similarly, because physical exercise releases the buildup of stress chemistry, it can be employed daily. Continuing to participate in movement and/or exercise in the midst of crisis is critical for circumventing the harm caused by excess stress chemistry during this time. Obviously, you may need to modify the type and timing of physical exercise during times of crisis, but omitting it altogether during such times puts one’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being at serious risk.

Mental and Emotional Stabilization

During a crisis, people need to carefully monitor their thoughts, because each thought produces a chemical package that is released into the blood. We can think of thoughts as a menu spread out before us. There are innumerable worries, self-reproaches, negative and scary concepts, or there is gratitude, blessings, and pleasure-filled ideas.

To prevent a nonstop drip of adrenaline and cortisol, we need to keep our brains fully occupied with productive, happy undertakings, and thoughts.

However, in order not to suppress our natural negative thoughts and feelings, we need to give them a voice, by appointment, at least once a day. In part 2 of this article we’ll explore strategies for doing this, as we continue to explore the most useful interventions for crisis management.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 844)

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