We all have those moments when we feel everything is falling apart or when suddenly too many problems seem to come our way all at the same time. They end up overwhelming us and we find it hard to tackle them all at once. Our mind gets stressed, our body gets fatigued and our problem-solving skills and creativity fails us when we need it most.
The thing to understand is that crisis is not a situation. It’s a reaction to a situation, or rather an impaired reaction to a given situation.
In moments of crisis, emotions run high and this, together with increasing stress, makes it very difficult to have a clear head. This is of course counter-productive as having murky thoughts, if not outright panic attacks, will keep you further away from functioning properly and lucidly finding the much needed solution to the problems at hand.
So what can you do when you are in those moments of crisis? How can you keep a clear head and stay focused on finding solutions?
I suggest the following:
1. Get out of the state of shock first: In moments of crisis and high anxiety, your mind is locked in a state of shock. The flight or fight mode of your brain has been activated and a chain of chemical reactions in the body is set off that are often manifest in panic or anxiety. You need to get out of that state. Be aware that you are in that state first. Then be resolute to step out of it.
2. Focus on something: This can be difficult at first but it will help the mind settle and quiet down from its state of panic. Focus on an object (external object or part of your body) for a few minutes or visualize an image and keep your awareness locked on to it for a few minutes. My preferred object of focus is my breath (see next).
3. Do some breathing exercises: Sit straight and breathe deeply. Take four deep breaths and be conscious of them. That is, give your breath a soft attention to it. Feel the air moving in and out of your lungs and air ducts as you inhale or exhale. Feel you belly gently rising and falling with each breath. Keep your awareness focused on the breath. If you feel your mind is wandering off, return your awareness to your breath.
4. Soothing sounds: The mind reacts to sounds in our environment as much as it reacts to sights. We might not be aware of it, but there are sounds which agitate us and make us feel anxious while some other relax us and soothes us. For example, the sound of birds chirping, ocean waves, or gentle rain can have a very relaxing effect on your mind.
5. Take a short walk and take some fresh air: This is a classic for a very good reason. It works wonders every time. Going out for a walk disentangles your mind, changes your perspective and refreshes both your mind and body.
6. Talk to someone: Conversation stimulates ideas to flow. Don’t keep it all bottled inside. If you keep on replaying the problem in your mind it might not resolve anything but actually make you more stressed out and tired. Talking can be therapeutic to some and definitely helpful to everyone because it opens up the bottle.
7. Do some sport and physical exercise: This has the same effect of taking a walk but is a bit more intense. Physical exercise helps the body detoxify itself from the build up of chemicals and toxins caused by stress and over-worrying. Any sport such as running, tennis, squash, basketball, etc is helpful.
8. Chunk down the problem into small manageable pieces: Crisis is a management problem. To use a management-oriented solution, classify your problems into important and urgent. If a problem or task is both urgent and important, it should be given top priority. If it is urgent but not important, get it out of your way but don’t waste too much time on it. If it is important but not urgent, you should tackle it after the urgent ones but spend more time on it. Allocate time to focus on the important problems without distraction or multitasking. Only one problem at a time.
9. Positive self-talk: Language and metaphors are crucial. Your mind acts on what you tell it. If your language (affirmations, self-talk, inner conversations) are positive, in the present tense, and action-oriented, your mind will follow command. Hence you self-talk should be “I am now solving problem A” not “I will try to solve this and this problem but I don’t know where to start or if I’ll manage.”
10. Make a plan: even if you don’t yet have one. When I have some project to finish or problem to solve, sometimes I’m clueless. So I ask: “What’s the point of writing down a plan before I have one?” but then I take a pen and paper and start jotting down some points. Even senseless scribble. Doesn’t matter. After some short time, the ideas start flowing in because you have initiated the process. You have instructed your mind to start writing and so it followed. This is what is meant by positive self-talk in the previous point.