How to avoid losing sight of your best self in a crisis

When crisis strikes, some people can get quickly overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks ahead. This is really common when there's a high degree of uncertainty in terms of the outcome.

There's a lot of unknowns associated with this crisis, which is typical in the times that we are in. For some people their emotional parts of their brain go into overdrive. You go into this fight-flight-freeze or defensive rage response. 

Your amygdala is on overdrive, which is the most reptilian part of our brain, the oldest part of our brain. It's the one that takes over when we feel there is a threat, when we're in a crisis and there's a threat to our current status quo. There may even be a threat to your ego in terms of how you expect yourself to perform in such a crisis.

You may not feel you have the right tools, techniques, or skills available to you to perform in the role that someone may have put you in. There may also be a threat to the current status quo that you are used to. 

It’s quite expected when you are in a crisis for you to feel this need to go into emotional overdrive. The question is, how can you avoid doing that? How can you avoid losing sight of your best self? 

We know from scientific studies that when our brain does go into a shock response, it's really difficult for ourselves to perform. It's really difficult for ourselves to stay focused. 

As the activity increases in our amygdala and the emotional parts of our brain, it can take the front frontal lobes, the executive function of our brain offline so we can quickly respond to the threat we are experiencing.

When it's a crisis, some people get really angry. Some people freeze and just don't know what to do. Some people just want to run away from the situation. And that is quite normal. That is people's default response to certain crises. 

So we want to take the time really to learn - how can we take back control of our mindset? How can we calm down our amygdala and make sure that we are able to bring our thinking brain, our logical part of our brain back online? So we can make the decisions necessary that move us forward in a crisis that make us take the steps that will help us not only in the short term, but in the long term as well?

 


My name is Dr Ruth Mary Allan. I'm a certified brain health and high performance coach and Havening Techniques practitioner. I'm also a reservist British army officer. And for the last 25 years, I've been helping train leaders to build their emotional and mental resilience to be better prepared for going on operations, through military adventurous training that has a risk to life and limb.

I'm going to draw from some of my experience in that context as to how you can avoid losing sight of your best self in a crisis. 

Back in 2008, I was invited as a military mountain leader to support an expedition overseas. And we were camping in a campsite right next to a river that was released and had been an awful lot of rain, uh, over the last few days, as we were training and getting ready to go on our expedition into the mountains.

That night there was a huge rumble, almost earthquake-like and the ground really shook underneath our tents.

I just knew there was something that wasn't right.

The damn-released stream on the campsite that was previously a trickle went into a massive flow.

Shortly after me getting out of my tent, knowing that I needed to flee, knowing that something definitely wasn't right, something definitely was going to happen very soon, the emergency services came down from the village. 

They said we had to evacuate immediately because there had been a major rock fall upstream, and it was going to threaten the campsite.

Within 30 minutes we evacuated the whole campsite. My role in that was to act as the liaison officer, if you will, to help in the translation of what the emergency services needed to do and what they wanted the people in the village to do, because I was one of the few people that could speak German.

So I acted as the translator. In fact we were evacuated to an underground bunker within a hospital to take us away from the risk area where the rock could fall taken - away from the campsite to a place of safety.

It was really important at that time that I took the time to focus on how I could show up as my best self, not only to help myself, but to obviously help all the people that were being evacuated. 

So I'm going to draw on the three simple steps that you can take in order to help you stay in charge of your best.

To help you bring your brain back online. 

 

Step 1: Acknowledge the uncomfortable emotions that you may be experiencing as a result of a crisis that you may be thrown into.

It's okay to not feel okay.

It's okay to have negative emotions. It's okay to feel scared. It's okay to feel tense, to feel nervous, to want to flee. That is okay. Be okay with those emotions, embrace them and give them a really good hug to acknowledge I'm okay with those emotions. 

That's just a natural response.

Write down or acknowledge out loud to yourself all the emotions you are feeling and be okay with those emotions.

 

Step 2: Focus on breathing.

From a kayaking perspective, if we capsize in our boat and we go onto water, one of the first things we say as an instructor to people when they capsize and they come to the surface is to shout “CAPSIZE!”

That's not just to alert people that they've gone in the water, but that's also to activate their breathing because they go into shock because of the cold water.

Helping yourself activate your normal breathing process calms you down. So take a nice deep breath, breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four and hold for four. This is called box breathing. So breathe in for four hold for four.

As you're breathing out, just try and imagine just breathing out all of those unhelpful emotions that are coming into your mind and do this until such time that you feel that you have calmed yourself down a little bit. 

 

Step 3: Focus on how you want to show up as your best self in this particular crisis.

What three words would you describe or would you use to describe for yourself that would make you be that person that you want to be, be the best person you want to be in that crisis?

Calm, focused and intentional could be your three words.

That's certainly what I sought to be when I was acting as that liaison officer in the crisis that I was supporting.

The next day when we returned back to the campsite, it turned out that my tent was actually right in the middle of the path of destruction. Five million tons of rock and hundreds and hundreds of trees had riped through the campsite and town.

Some people had lost their tents. Fortunately, I was able to get my tent packed away and into safe ground. We were able to continue on with that expedition.

 

If you are thrown into a crisis, if you want to make sure you don't lose sight of your best self, that you focus on those three things:

  1. Acknowledge the emotions that you're having and that they're uncomfortable. It's okay to feel uncomfortable. It’s normal to feel that way
  2. Breathe. Re-engage your breathing to help calm down your overactive emotional centers of your brain and help you bring the logical part of your brain back on line. You can also use self-Havening (link to Havening article) to do that too. 
  3. Decide how you want to show up in that situation. What emotional words define the very best of you in that particular crisis so that you can focus on moving forward positively and generating those emotions so that outwardly you can really be effective in the crisis that you're responding to. 

 


If you are really struggling with managing your emotions in a crisis, with thinking logically, and you want help, make sure you click on the link below to register for your FREE Unleashed Strategy call to find out how I can help you.

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