Living in Crisis (and how to stop)

I recently asked some friends what I should write about, and they gave me some great ideas. The one that jumped out at me the most, the one I am going to address today, seemed incredibly relevant: “living in crisis mode and how to stop;” not just in my own life, but in the country in general right now.  It dovetailed nicely with another suggestion: “How to help clean the energy of the country now that a large percent of the population has been in fear for many years.”

Whether you’ve noticed it or now, the United States (where most of my readership lives, apologies to my international readers, this will have relevance for you as well, I’m sure) has been living in fear for a long time. I’m not even talking about 2001. In the 30s, there were fears about the depression, messages of lack. That flowed right into the issues of WWII, with the rationing, xenophobia, and totalitarianism, not to mention losing family members in the way itself. From there, we went into the Korean war and McCarthyism. In the 60s, a lot of people actually rose up against the messages of fear, and we had some progress, but not as much as people like to think. In the 70s, we had the recession, with its economic fears, and a rise of anti-Islamic sentiment, which culminated in 1979 with the Iran Hostage Crisis. The War on Drugs started in the 80s and went into the 90s, and overseas military actions (we don’t call them wars anymore, apparently), as well as a few well-publicized terrorist actions on domestic soil.

2001, however, was a turning point, because it brought the polarization of our population to the forefront in a way it hadn’t been in quite some time. Additionally, every time people saw the planes flying into the towers on TV, they went into trauma and fear. Because people were glued to their TV sets, and because the news showed the events of that day over and over and over again, most of the country was entrenched in trauma for years. Some people still are. We just haven’t been given the skills to process it appropriately. When you add to this the personal traumas and crises that occur in a normal person’s life, a lot of people have lost their coping mechanisms (or never learned any to begin with). We have a nation of people who don’t know what to do with themselves anymore.

Think about it. When something happens in your life – you lose your job, or someone you care about passes away, or you face rejection – do you get overwhelmed? This is not to say that you shouldn’t grieve when people and things eave your life; grieving is normal and healthy. If, however, you feel stuck or can’t see a way out, if you’ve lost your hope, or even if you have unrealistic expectations of what should be happening in your life, you may very well be stuck in trauma or crisis. Some other symptoms of this are: black & white (or binary) thinking – something is either this way or that way, with no grey area in between; thinking that someone is going to rescue you, if only you ____; cyclical/obsessive thinking (your brain keeps circling around and around on an issue, like a hamster wheel); a marked increase in escapist behaviors like drinking; an inability (or significant decrease) in your problem-solving skills; and/or expending a lot of energy trying to avoid a particular subject or event. Some people have even become addicted to being in crisis. They are unable to interact with life on any other level. Everything in their lives has become a crisis level event.

As cliched as it might sound, the first step to getting out of the cycle is to recognize there is a problem. If you don’t see that something needs to change, you’re not going to change anything. I realize this sounds straight forward, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t click in on that realization.

Once you have realized that you’re stuck in crisis, and you want to change that, it really helps to develop a daily grounding practice. You can use a guided grounding meditation like the one here, or you can make a habit of focusing all of your attention on the soles of your feet for at least 8 minutes every morning. This, by the way, may sound simple, but it’s not easy. The key is repetition, doing it every day. As you develop a habit of it, it becomes easier to remember to ground at other times during the day. Grounding will help you make responsive decisions, rather than being reactive. It can help you stay out of conflict more, and improve your communication skills. It can even contribute to feeling less broadsided by events in your life.

Another daily exercise that helps, especially when you’re trying to retrain your brain, is to write a daily gratitude list. Some people recommend 3 or 5 or 10 items. Some people will recommend you do your list in the morning, and some at night. Personally, I do my best to do a 51 item gratitude list every night right before bed. Night times are when my squirrel cage gets really active, and 51 items is long enough to shift gears for me so I can sleep, rather than stewing on a subject. It sounds like a lot, I know,  but it’s not that hard when you get into the swing of things. Start with a number that feels like it’s just outside of your comfort zone and increase the quantity as you get more practiced with it.

If your crisis issues increase your need for control, keep reminding yourself that you are not in charge. If they make you want to run away, try the same reminder and see if that takes the edge off.

Creating a list every evening of what you did well, what you could have done better (if you can’t say how you would have done it better, you couldn’t have done it better), and 6 beautiful things you saw or experienced can help you refocus as well, nudging you back into a place where you feel empowered and are solution oriented.

If your way of dealing with life involves mind altering substances, and you are feeling out of control, it may be time to seek help. Habit can turn to addiction fairly quickly, and ingrains behaviors that will serve to keep you in crisis. Don’t let money be an obstacle, there are all sorts of cheap-to-free options these days. Do some research. Just looking around for workable solutions starts to get you out of crisis. Following through on that research helps even more.

These suggestions are only a beginning, but you have to start somewhere. Trying to take in more than this will overwhelm many of you, and then you’ll be back where you were before, unwilling or unable to try any solutions. Start with bite-sized chunks.

Oh, and keep breathing. Slowly. Deeply. As slow as you can, as deep as you can, whenever you think of it. Try to breathe all the way down into your hips. Try to breathe all the way down into the soles of your feet. Breathe in to a very slow count of four, and breathe out to that same paced count of four. Set an alarm to remind you, and do it once every hour. See if anything changes. What’s the worst that could happen? You get more oxygen. Might help, you never know.


Posted in Crisis, Personal growth, Practice, Tools

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