Carole Landis Relationship Therapist | Life Coach
349 W.Lancaster Avenue, Suite #103
Haverford, PA 19041
610.649.9964
carole@mstherapist.com
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Personal Crisis

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Coping with a Major Personal Crisis
Painful and traumatic events in our lives can generate positive life transformations.

A "crisis" is any situation that causes you to experience unusually strong emotional reactions that interfere with your normal routine. Because life is not constant, each of us will face times of major turmoil, trauma, and life change. These life-altering events—the death of a loved one, an accident or devastating illness, divorce or separation, job loss, natural disasters, a change in financial security, relocation, being the victim of a crime—are types of personal loss. These life-altering events force us to go through the process of grieving, as they represent a loss of self. We were once shaped or defined by them, and they represented our place in the world until our "personal universe" crumbled. Despite the loss, the outcome of a crisis may actually result in growth and change.

There are, however, those who perceive daily life as nothing more than a series of dramas, or "crises." These people react to any event where the outcome does not meet their expectations as a catastrophe, and they choose to live each day from one crisis event to the next. This is not the universal concept of crisis as defined earlier.

Abnormal responses are normal to abnormal situations. People respond differently in, during, and after a crisis or a threatening situation—but every one of them is changed in ways he or she may not realize. Some feel the brunt of the experience immediately. Others appear to be strong or even numb to their experience. Often, victims of a traumatic episode become involved in helping others, as easing the suffering of others helps them feel better. The danger in this, however, is that if they become overly absorbed too soon following the event, the "helping" serves to avoid the personal pain that arises from coming to terms with their own feelings.

The most positive thing a person experiencing a crisis can do is express his or her thoughts and feelings in a safe and open manner. Discussing the negative situation with friends, family, or a therapist immediately following the event (within 72 hours) is a necessary first step toward coping with a crisis. People who are friends or coworkers of those affected can listen compassionately, but they may experience secondary trauma as a result of listening to others' experiences of an event.

It is normal for people experiencing a crisis to:

  • Feel sad, depressed, or hopeless, with outbursts of crying
  • Be anxious, worried, or have waves of panic
  • Feel very tired with a loss of energy
  • Feel stressed, tense, or "wired"
  • Become easily angered and irritable
  • Feel helpless, discouraged, or worthless
  • Have problems concentrating, a poor memory, or racing thoughts
  • Have difficulty sleeping or sleep too much
  • Experience headache, stomach aches, indigestion, dizziness, and heart palpitations
  • Have a change in appetite or an increase in alcohol or drug use
  • Wish to withdraw or be alone
  • Feel hateful, bitter, and revengeful.

Here are some strategies for coping with the difficult, painful, and confusing times in your life.

  • Reach out for help. It is important to talk about your experience and express your feelings and thoughts to family, friends, trusted clergy, a therapist, or professional counselor—people who are compassionate, empathetic, and who can validate your feelings without judgment. Allow your children to share your grief. Use community hotlines as a resource. At some point in time, although not initially, you may wish to seek out a support group.
  • Stay in the "now." The upheaval of crisis causes one to feel out of control, confused, and overwhelmed with what the change has caused. Try to manage your emotional energy by removing any outside sources that you do not have to deal with "today." Do not worry about too many things down the road; turn all energy toward what is on your plate now.
  • Control your media exposure. Limit TV watching or viewing news headlines on the Internet. World events and calamities magnify the stress and pressure you are already facing. The majority of news stories are filled with negativity, doom, and gloom.
  • Take charge. It is normal to feel helpless after a crisis. Force yourself to take action to do one positive thing to get through each day. Make small daily goals, even if it is just shopping for groceries, cooking a meal, paying a bill, cleaning out your car, or helping a neighbor. Find a need in your family or community and do something about it. When you fill a need in others, life tends to regain its meaning. Although we can't control feelings and emotions, we can take control of actions and behaviors.
  • Nurture yourself. Get extra rest. Try to exercise and eat a healthy diet with five small or three regular meals each day. Find at least one thing you enjoy doing. While engaging in these activities, tune into pleasant thoughts. If negative thinking surfaces, be mindful of it and try to let it go.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. It is important to stay sharp and focused in the present, drawing on all of your mental energy to meet the challenges and adjustments of the crisis. Substances dull emotions and produce a temporary false sense of feeling good—when they wear off you are still in the crisis, which you will eventually come to grips with.
  • Change negativity. Observe when you have hateful, bitter, and vengeful thoughts. Be aware of them and work to let them go. Holding on to thoughts of retribution sustains the negative cycle and prolongs the crisis.
  • Move beyond self-blame. There are often no answers for why traumatic events happen. Spending massive amounts of time and energy on trying to figure out "What if" is counterproductive. People have a tendency to blame themselves, whether they share some of the responsibility for the crisis or it was unpredictable and unavoidable. Your only choices are to stay stuck in the past (the event) or to learn how to go forward with your life.

How is it that some people are able to bounce back after a crisis and others stay stuck for indefinite periods of time? The answer lies in a person's resilience—his or her ability to draw from an inner strength. A crisis is a time for adapting to new situations and discovering one's tolerance to pain and distressing emotions. We all have the capacity to reorganize our lives after a traumatic event and achieve new levels of order and meaning. We can learn new methods of becoming resilient through professional help and a willingness to examine our inner qualities—thought, intuition, the spiritual self—in a new light that gives us the strength to endure the crisis.

(To read more, please click here for "Life Changes")

Carole Landis is located in Haverford, Pennsylvania (PA) on the Main Line in Montgomery County. Her service area includes: Philadelphia, Montgomery County (Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Bala Cynwyd, Wynnewood, Villanova, Rosemont, Narberth, Gladwynne, Penn Valley, King of Prussia, Ardmore) and Delaware County (Newtown Square, Broomall, Havertown, Upper Darby).

Contact Carole for a free 1/2 hour phone consultation.

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