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My First Response

You have a deadline – a major report is due in half an hour and your computer crashes. The school calls, your child is sick, you are in the middle of a rush job and your office is an hour away from school. You have a meeting scheduled in half an hour and you can’t find your carefully prepared notes that include pertinent graphs and vital information.  You are working on a major project,  everything seems to be going wrong and your client is calling every 5 minutes. You feel panicked.  

I’m sure you have your own 1001 crisis moments when stress is suddenly escalated to the moon. In an instant your fight/flight response is activated and adrenaline is pouring out your pores along with perspiration.

But even though your body and mind are prepared to run or fight, the proverbial tiger at the door isn’t there; at least not in physical form. You are geared up for battle with noone to fight or no place to run. Sometimes, we become like the deer frozen in their tracks staring into the headlights of an approaching car. 

What is your first response to a crisis?

It is easy to panic when you are meeting a deadline and everything goes wrong, your job or someone is depending on you or life simply dumps a truckload of problems on top of you. 

Panic, fear and anxiety are responses to perceived danger and are connected to the automatic thoughts that tell us we need to do something to survive. Even when that survival is psychological, our physical responses to that danger remain the same.

When our responses to problems are exaggerated or are out of proportion to  actual events, we find ourselves in a state of constant high alert and stress.

No matter what the situation – no matter how dire or drastic – we can stop, evaluate and choose a more appropriate response. That first step in finding a solution, is lowering the immedate stress level so we can think and act more appropriately.

When we develop practical responses to every day problems, we can better handle emergencies. If our typical response is exaggerated or out of proportion to the situation, we soon develop habits that keep us feeling hopeless and helpless. It isn’t the events themselves that stress us out, but our perceptions of what we can do, are able to do or believe we must do.

Unless someone is physically in danger where immediate action is required, the first thing when faced with what seems like a catastrophic crisis is to STOP. 

Take a few calming deep slow breaths that come from the diaphragm, and allow your mind to become calm. Taking those few seconds or minutes out of a time pressured situation might seem like an eternity but it isn’t. You are calming your reaction so you can find appropriate solutions. 

Next, do a quick assessment. What is the first thing that needs to be done? What can you do and what can’t you do? What resources are available to you? Make a quick inventory of options. Choose the best and act. 

Panic can keep us from thinking systematically and logically adding more pressure and intensity to our situation. We can reduce the effects of that panic by challenging the thinking associated with it, turning it from catastrophic to manageable.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore ways to put in place more practical responses to problems.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

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