By Denise King Gillingham, CPCC
We all experience them. From life-changing to momentarily disruptive, crises come in all shapes and sizes and are seen as unwelcome visitors because they generally force us out of our routine as we cope with their impact.
There are many ways to define crisis. For the purpose of this piece, I like this one, from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending.”
In a crisis there is a lack of stability. Often something ruptures or breaks, forcing us to put our lives back together in a new way. Because we are creatures of habit, our first inclination is to embrace the past and resist the change. We might say things like, “This is not possible,” or we may look back and say, “If only. . . .” The shock of the event can make us feel overwhelmed and powerless.
Although we cannot control what happens in a crisis, we can control how we deal with its aftermath. And looking beyond the immediate discomfort and disruption, it’s clear that working our way through a crisis can help us grow and thrive.
Here are four ideas to help you navigate a crisis and maybe even use the experience to create positive change in your life:
Speak truthfully and from the heart. In a difficult situation, you may find yourself at a loss for words to describe your own feelings or respond to others. At these times your first instinct may be to say things indirectly because you think it will be easier to hear. This leads to confusion and misunderstandings. Instead of trying to say “the right thing,” say what you feel. Be direct. When you speak from your heart, you feel better, and whatever you have to say will be easily understood and well tolerated.
Develop a support system. When people ask, “What can I do to help?” Tell them! You are not being a burden. It makes people feel good to help. By letting them help you, you are giving them something, too.
Communicate your needs clearly. Be open and clear with friends and family about your needs and expectations during this time. If you want to be alone and have time to yourself to process, make sure people know that. If, on the other hand, you feel the need for close communication and support, be clear about that wish.
Consider this scenario as an example: Maggie does not want to see anyone because she needs time to grieve her mother’s recent death. Instead of directly telling people that she needs time to herself, she does not return calls or e-mails from family and friends. People then call and e-mail more because they are concerned. Maggie becomes even more overwhelmed. Had Maggie asked a friend or family member to get the word out that she needs some downtime, the situation could have been avoided and those close to her would have relaxed and understood what she needed. When you communicate clearly, you are more likely to have your needs met.
Take time for you. Figure out what makes you feel centered and whole and do it—guiltlessly. Just as you fuel your body with food, you must nourish your soul, especially in challenging times. Spiritual food is as essential as the food we eat!
Use the opportunities created by crises to help you improve your life. Sometimes opportunities present themselves in peculiar packages! _
Denise King Gillingham, MSW, CPCC, is a certified coach and mediator who specializes in helping people achieve enduring life change through accessing their inner wisdom. Her international practice includes clients from all walks of life. Denise received her master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and has been a mental health professional for more than 15 years. She shifted her focus from therapy to coaching in 2006. Her professional experience includes a private supportive psychotherapy practice in Prague, Czech Republic; crisis intervention with New York University; in-patient therapy at Payne Whitney Clinic in New York City; and substance abuse counseling at Bronx VA Medical Center in New York City. She develops and conducts workshops on emotional intelligence for organizations in the United States and Europe. Contact Denise at firstname.lastname@example.org.