Self-communication in a Crisis

Roy is 62 years old and is finishing up his annual physical. His physician says, “Roy, everything looks great. Your blood work, vitals, weight, lifestyle…everything is in normal and healthy ranges.”

Roy smiled and said, “That’s always good to hear!” The physician looked at him and added, “Of course you understand that I can’t guarantee you’ll live to 80 or even 70.”

Roy, still smiling, nods and says, “Sure I understand that. But trying to live a long life is not why I exercise, keep my weight down, and all that other healthy stuff. I just want to feel good today! Isn’t that about the best we can do?”

Even though the staying-healthy odds are in his favor, Roy could easily suffer a health crisis at any time, even the next day. And here’s the coping question I want to pose: If it happens, will he be prepared for the crisis?  An unexpected event brings drastic changes to his life and arouses intense emotions that threaten to overwhelm him. Will he be able to keep his head above water? Will he be prepared to have a “crisis conversation” with life?

How about you? Are you prepared to maintain your coping conversations with life in the face of crises? Here are some things to consider when faced with events so intense that you feel you could very easily spiral out of control.

To organize your crisis plan, ask yourself some basic “what if” questions. The idea is not to make up a precise list of steps to take, like a family might do to prepare for a flooding river, tornado, hurricane, or some other natural threat. No, the idea is to formulate a general conceptual plan of basic principles to follow when suddenly confronted with unexpected coping challenges, such as when a loved one dies, sickness occurs, or there is a vital threat to your financial security.

First of all, assess the crisis by determining what features are under your control. A crisis tends to bring out strong emotional reactions, which put you at risk for blindly reacting and trying to influence events that really are far out of your control.

Remind yourself to be proactive using your intellectual abilities and not relying solely on sudden emotional tendencies. Fear, frustration, jealousy, anger and other emotions will tell you to run, avoid, and hide, and such avoidance is a sure recipe for devastation. A more rational approach will focus on how you can use your emotions to your advantage, not on how you can deny the presence of your unwanted emotions.

Bring in your trusted friends, your social network, to help. Communication is essential here, but again, it must not be based on panic and fear. Rationality, objectivity, and a willingness to listen to proactive suggestions from others is essential if your communication is to be productive.

Do not blame others for your crisis. Doing so will distract you from the task at hand. Convincing yourself that evil others are responsible for your travails will only elicit derisive laughs from life. Even your social network will recoil from your displaced blame because you will sound defensive and unwilling to move forward.

All these suggestions are explicitly developed throughout this blog, and they shouldn’t surprise you. The point here, however, is that if you are psychologically and mentally prepared when a “what if” question becomes real, you will be better able to put our blog principles into practice.

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