By Leo Averbach
Crises come in many forms and their severity varies enormously. But whatever type of crisis you are experiencing, certain rules apply that can ease your way through it. I call it ‘Negotiating a Crisis’.
My crisis came in the shape of a divorce, a breakup, after nearly twenty years of marriage and three children. I believe that my divorce ordeal has given me insight into how to deal with a personal crisis. It was very rough at the time and it is not easy revisiting my experience now but I do get some satisfaction from knowing that I went through hell and lived to tell the tale.
My overall outlook is that when we are facing a crisis we need all the help we can get, from ourselves and from outside; we have to mobilize all possible resources. In short, we need to maximize our chances of negotiating the crisis successfully.
Rule 1 – stand still and breathe.
When you feel that initial wave of panic and you think the world around you is collapsing, you must stand still and breathe. Don’t try to do anything. No decisions, no resolutions, no actions. Just be in a quiet place and do nothing. Sometimes you just have to let the pain go through you. Eventually it will ease.
It sounds easy but sometimes things that sound easy are the hardest to accomplish. This is one of them. It is hard to do nothing. Believe me. Your instinct will tell you that you have to act: strike out, make decisions and arrangements, show who you are, etc. It’s difficult to go against these instincts but it is in your interests to do so. Give yourself time. Be the calm at the centre of the storm for a while. While the storm is raging overhead it is appropriate to take cover. It’s not the time to be outside and exposed. Your time will come.
Rule 2 – conserve your energy.
You need all your strength to deal with the crisis, so don’t waste it. The way a lot of people waste energy is to run themselves down, to blame themselves for precipitating the crisis. This might not be the case, or only partly. Maybe you share the blame.
People often tend to think that what is happening outside themselves is better than what they have and during crises this tendency is exacerbated. It is not better out there. And it is very debilitating to start thinking that the world out there is a greener pasture, whether what you have in mind is only a change of scene for yourself or the world that somebody who has left you has just entered.
What you have to do is keep your eyes on your own ship. Never mind the other yachts or liners sailing by, yours is good and you need to concentrate on steering it. Once you start looking ‘out there’ you see only waste land, which is bound to appear a lot more glamorous than it actually is, and to be full of all sorts of beautiful people who seem to be living happy, contented and fulfilled lives. Look at what you have got and at what you have achieved. You will probably find that there is a lot you can take credit for.
The point about looking inward is that if focuses you on yourself and stops you from comparing yourself to others, particularly to somebody who is party to your crisis. The moment you start running yourself down you leak energy, which is what you want to avoid.
Rule 3 – don’t be scared of what may or may not happen.
In crisis situations we start imagining the worst and it can be very frightening. The secret is not to predict. Things will happen and you will have a greater or a lesser say in them. What you must avoid at all costs is being intimidated by what-if scenarios. They can drive you crazy because there is no end of possibilities and at times of difficulty they get multiplied and the future seems much more foreboding and threatening. The idea of imagining a worst-case scenario can be a useful controlled exercise, but getting into a panic about what may happen is dangerous.
One of the best ways to prevent yourself from worrying about what might happen is to concentrate on the present. As far as possible, try to live in the moment, in the here and now. Break time into small units and force yourself to be here and nowhere else. It takes practice but it can be done. Use all your senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste to experience the world around you – as it is right now. Whichever way you look at it, the idea is to take one day at a time. Just today. The future will happen and it will be okay.
Rule 4 – take one small step at a time.
In many difficult situations the tendency is to rush and to expect too much too quickly, especially with regard to repair. We want change and we want it fast. Unfortunately it does not usually occur at the pace we expect. Here I am reminded of the Chinese sage who was asked how he managed to complete a trek of thousands of kilometers. He answered, “By putting one foot in front of the other.” There are variations of this story, yet it remains true: even the longest journey starts with one small step.
Bear this in mind and don’t ask too much of yourself. The good things happen slowly; they take time. It is pointless to try to speed them up and ultimately the effort is wasted and draining. Remember also the tale of the three pigs? Only the one who built a house of bricks survived. You need to figuratively build your house with bricks, on a solid foundation. Accomplish a little bit each day, making sure that what you have done is sound and right for you.
In practice this means that you should not rush to get things done, to make changes, to resolve situations, and so forth. A time of crisis is the worst time to hurry. Nice and slow is the best motto.
Rule 5 – most paths are good; go for what you want.
I firmly believe that very few of the paths open to us are going to lead to the abyss. Without denying that there is clearly a place in our lives for rational, sensible behavior, I think we agonize, ponder and deliberate over choices about what to do next far too much. Once we begin to think that, within the realm of what is reasonable, most choices will turn out okay, things become much easier.
Here there is room to listen to your heart and to do what you really want. Again, it is not easy. Knowing what you want for yourself means really listening to what is going inside you. But the rewards are great. For the most part people do not do what they really want because they are restricted by convention, upbringing or perhaps finances.
However, if you are able to do what you want in your given circumstances, you have gone a long way to reduce the dimensions of the crisis. In fact, you will have transformed the crisis into an opportunity. That is a major, life-changing achievement.
a. You must treat yourself well in every sense. Number one, be kind to yourself, go easy on yourself – give yourself a break. Allow yourself time out, to just be. Don’t expect too much of yourself at a time of crisis. All you need to do is keep your bits together. Don’t splinter.
b. It is also time for treats. On the food front, make sure you eat decent, simple food. Drink a lot of water and fruit juices which are nourishing. If you can afford treatments such as massage, reflexology or aromatherapy, it is worth indulging yourself at this time.
c. Resort to nature. Get as much fresh air as you can. Go for walks in a park or in the country. You will find they give you energy and facilitate your recovery.
d. If you can possibly get involved in doing something practical you should do so. The experience of being in a group with people engaged in a similar activity will also help you to relax. Classes in drawing, painting, pottery, knitting, carpentry come to mind. I know from my own experience as a potter that clay has a very calming effect. It is wonderful to take a piece of raw clay and play with it for a while. You might also want to make something, which can be very satisfying.
e. Music – has the capacity to relax you, to quieten your world or even to express what you are feeling/thinking. Used in the right way it can be very helpful and exhilarating.
f. I used affirmations a lot. I needed to keep reminding myself of certain things, so I wrote them down on bits of paper that I kept with me at all times. When the chance arose I would go over them and drill them into my system. Sometimes we need a lot of convincing and this was one way I found that worked for me. The affirmations themselves change with you and your circumstances, and you will find that it’s helpful to be reaffirmed. Examples: the pain will pass; a new life beckons.
g. Therapy: if you are at all inclined towards therapy, this is the time to find a good therapist, either in a one-to-one situation or in a group. You don’t have to sign up for ten years; even ten sessions can be beneficial. Naturally, you can achieve more in longer periods, of say a few years.
h. Keeping a diary: you will find that writing things down is strangely comforting. They seem to assume a clarity that was not there before. For me the simple act of writing – with a pen on a blank sheet – was very cathartic.
Lastly, remember: your best days are ahead of you.
Whatever you may think while in the depths off despair, when it seems your misery will never end, it will. There is light at the end of the tunnel. What is more, if you take this opportunity to transform yourself – to come to terms with your loss; to let go of the past – you will find that you will enter a period of ease and comfort with yourself in the world that you would not have believed possible. If it is a lost love that precipitated your crisis, in time you may well find a much greater love than you believed yourself capable of. Fortunately for me, I did.