6 Tips For Staying Calm In a Crisis, From A 911 Emergency Operator

Staying calm in an emergency is something I’ve always naturally been good at and it’s likely what attracted me to work for 911. I developed this at a young age growing up around uncertainty on occasion and in moments of crisis, I learned to detach and think rationally. My way of feeling in control was to remain calm while others weren’t.
Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and still working for 911, I’m noticing various coping strategies during this pandemic. Some people are handling it with humor while others are at the opposite end of the spectrum, feeding into the fear and uncertainty of it all. The people who do feed into the fear appear to be the most stressed.
There are specific attitudes we can have in a crisis that allow us to feel calmer overall. Whether it’s a personal crisis or coping with the uncertainty of a global pandemic, there are behaviors we can implement that allow us to feel more in control of ourselves and feel less stressed.
The following is what I remind myself to do and be aware of when coping with anything unexpected.

1. “It is what it is.”

Acceptance is key. When faced with any situation, acknowledge what’s happening by accepting the facts, what’s happened so far, and that we don’t have control over it. If we live in denial or worse, jump to panic mode over what’s happening and what could happen, we will get too wrapped up in the fear of what could happen over what’s actually happening.

2. “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” – Eckhart Tolle.

Accept the information and then educate yourself on what to do through awareness. Be aware of your role in what’s happening and what part you can take to make an impact. Be aware of what you are choosing to allow impact your thoughts. I always remind myself that we can choose what information to read and believe. We can choose the quality of information we expose ourselves to. Be vigilant with what you allow to impact your thoughts.

3. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin.

Being adaptable is the trait that I see emergency workers often have that lead to great success in handling a crisis as it allows them to go along with the flow of unexpected information without getting too flustered. It’s a skill that can be developed if you don’t have it inherently.
Start with the small things in life. If a change happens that affects your regular routine, rather than stress yourself out over your reactions to the change such as confusion, frustration, or anger, look for the silver lining and then just accept it.
There was a month where my normal route into work was having construction on it and the other route added 15 minutes to my commute. At first, I felt frustration and then I realized it was the more scenic route and it gave me an extra 15 minutes to listen to a podcast on my way, which I always enjoy as a way to start my day. I ended up preferring this route after adapting to it.
Being adaptable caused me far less stress and it’s so important to build this skill routinely so that it feels more natural when we have to be adaptable for bigger, unexpected changes.

4. Truly identify the aspects of what you can control. 

If you’ve accepted what has happened in a crisis and you’re aware of the impact it will make, it’s best to focus on what you can control versus what you can’t control. Operating out of our best self allows us to think more clearly and positively affect those around us.
We can control our sleep routine, our diet, and exercise but we can’t control another person or their behavior. We can also control our reactions to situations but not the actions of others. If we stress ourselves out over a person’s behavior or attitude about the pandemic that we don’t agree with and worry about the actions of others, we’re allowing negativity and fear to creep into our psyche.
Change that mindset by focusing purely on what you can actually control and impact.

5. Use your intuition and be prepared to think outside of the box in a high-pressure situation.

For moments in life that require a quick response and no time for considering other alternatives, we have to learn to trust our judgment, our intuition, and think outside of the box.
Typically, when it comes to making any big decision, we like to seek other people’s opinions and weigh the pros and cons but that can all go out the window in times of a crisis. Being able to act on impulse while being able to think rationally is not always easy. It requires trusting your own instincts and following them.
If this isn’t your strength, start challenging yourself daily to listen to your gut instinct more often and to not always seek the approval of others.

6. Take time to balance, relax, and breathe. 

Emergencies can cause us to flight, fight, or freeze and intuitively, most people know how important it is to manage our stress after that occurs. What’s just as important though is actually managing our stress before the event occurs.
My therapist pointed out that if I’m at a level 7 out of 10 for stress before something unexpected happens, I’m much more likely to reach a 10/10 stress level in times of a crisis that would impact the effectiveness of my response and my ability to cope after the fact.
Keeping my stress levels down routinely allows me to remain calmer when the unexpected happens, think more rationally and recover more easily once it’s over.
So whether it’s something big or small, being adaptable to change, accepting what we can’t control, and staying calm will help our health overall while allowing us to make better decisions.
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