How to Survive a Crisis

June 16, 2023

At some point in your life, you will encounter a crisis. Something so alarming will happen that affects you, your work, or your loved ones, that it leaves no space in your brain for processing anything else. When I find myself in one of those situations, I find that these principles help me navigate the situation.

  1. Determine if there is immediate danger. If so, act—run or fight—until the danger is mitigated.
  2. If there is no immediate danger, do not act. Anything you do without first thinking through will make things worse.
  3. Your primary task now is to slow down. Your amygdala is lying to you. You have more time than you think.
  4. Start a document and write down everything you know. Continue digging for facts until you are well-informed.
  5. Find appropriate processes and checklists, or make one. A stressed mind will forget important steps without it.
  6. Do not short-circuit stakeholders. Follow chains of command. Involve everyone in decision-making. Do not escalate without consensus.
  7. Log everything. You will forget.
  8. Now you can act, by executing the checklist.

It’s likely that a non-emergency type crisis will last for days, weeks, or months. During that time, be sure to take care of your body, which is easy to neglect as your mind races to fix the issues.

  • Schedule time for breaks, meals, and sleep. Drink lots of water.
  • Take time off work if you can. You don’t have infinite physical resources. Most people max out their days, and must sacrifice something to account for the extra load.
  • Don’t rush to normal. It takes a long time for humans to cope with a crisis. Grief, anger, shock—all of these things take time to dissipate to manageable levels. Budget time for that to happen.
  • Allow yourself to feel emotions. Emotions inform you of what your subconscious is dealing with. This provides context. Write it down.
  • Don’t rush to make changes in your lifestyle in reaction to the crisis, unless you need to avoid immediate danger. Wait until you have time to review your notes and have the benefit of hindsight.

Hope that helps!