When something upsetting happens to us, it's normal to react. If we don't have tools to cope with a sudden stressor we may feel like we react in a way that isn't helpful or makes us feel worse. Freaking out, bursting into tears, yelling at our kids or partner, or 'shutting down' are all common ways moms I work with respond in a crisis, especially when they're already feeling overwhelmed or out of control emotionally.
I've summed up my top 3 ways to be better prepared to respond logically and calmly in a crisis. These steps are simple, but not necessarily easy! It's tempting, and a well-ingrained habit usually, to react emotionally or extremely when something throws us off balance.
For the purpose of this article I'm defining a 'crisis' as something unexpected that causes us stress, but isn't life-threatening. So on a scale of 1 being breaking a nail and 10 being a life-altering catastrophe, these tips are good for anything up to a mid-range of 5 or 6. Examples include but aren't limited to; toddler (or teen) throwing a tantrum, feeling triggered by something a colleague says at a meeting, receiving bad news like your flight is cancelled and you're already at the airport. You're stressed. You know you need to "do" something but you become flooded with emotions and worry and it's hard to figure out what the heck to do!
The goal of these steps are not to problem-solve the crisis. Practicing these coping skills are not going to rebook your flight, or prevent your kiddo from having a shitfit. What it will do is get you on the road to recovery by equipping your body and brain with some calm and reducing the chance of going into fight/flight/freeze/fawn response.
First. Take a deep breath.
I know, I know, we hear this often. But it works! Studies show that focusing not only on your breathing but specifically on extending your exhale elicits a calming response from your vagus nerve.
Try four deep breaths, with a long exhale (try breathing in for a count of 4, holding for 3 and exhaling for 8. Do that four times) Now, notice how you feel? If it's not noticable yet, try for another count of 4. Your brain and body should be calming down, making it a little easier to access the thinking part of your brain.
2. Another trick for recovering from a crisis is 'waking up' your brain. We want to radically change your immediate environment, to switch up the homeostasis.
So if you're working in a warm room, go outside in the chilly fresh air without your coat for a few minutes.
If you've been pacing the room frantically, challenge yourself to sit still.
Chug a glass of ice cold water. Run in place. Turn all the lights in the room on. Anything to alert your thinking-brain that we need it's help and to avoid our emotion-brain from taking over.
3. I recommend trying this step after trying one of the above steps first. It will take a little more time than steps 1 and 2.
Make a list of our five senses, in whatever order they come to mind. Then scan the room you're in and note at list one thing around your for each sense.
See - outside my window is green grass and birds eating birdseed
Hear - dogs barking, space heater running
Taste - took a drink of my lukewarm coffee
Touch - holding my heavy ceramic mug that's slightly warm
Smell - notice the 'ocean breeze' scent of the candle on my desk.
Once you've completed one or all three of these steps, and not a second before, ask yourself how you're doing? What do you need? Did the Sensory Cues step identify some things you need? (I need the dog to stop barking, I bring him inside. I finished my coffee but I haven't had a drink of water all day, I'm going to grab a water from the fridge.) Instead of reacting in the face of adversity and yelling something at your colleague you cannot take back, performing these steps will redirect you to respond...not react.
Evaluate if there actually is a problem (maybe Biff at work is always trying to annoy people, it's not anything about you - it's a 'him' problem) Now you can decide what to do and what resources and help you'll need to do it. All the while identifying how you can comfort and reassure yourself in the process.
Jot this down on a post-it and stick it on your fridge or bathroom mirror, or snap a picture with your phone so you can reference it when you feel a crisis is pending and you're disregulating emotionally.
1. Long exhales
2. Change your environment
3. Sensory cues