Is it a crisis or a problem? - How to find out

By: Tom Cloyd - 4 min. read (Published: 2023-03-01; reviewed: 2023-03-03:1223 Pacific Time (USA))

Do you “believe your feelings”? It’s almost instinctual for us to do this, but it can lead to disaster. This is especially true for those who are experiencing high anxiety or even panic. If you’re in that group, you must first consider whether or not your feelings have a basis in reality.

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Feelings are the automatic, involuntary result of our brain’s making a quick assessment of the situation we think we’re in. In other words, we don’t (and can’t) choose our feelings. That they are automatic is often very helpful: this enables us to quickly corral our internal resources when it can be quite important to respond quickly.

If our feelings are a good fit to the situation we’re really in, then all is well. But if the feelings are excessive (example: you’re late for a routine appointment, and you feel utterly panicked) or simply inaccurate (example: a friend texts you that they can’t meet you to go grocery shopping, and you feel suddenly alone and abandoned), then you have some work to do, because your feelings do not accurately reflect the reality of your situation. In either case, your brain is signaling a CRISIS when there isn’t one. This is neither accurate nor helpful.

Fortunately, this is simple: If you must respond quickly to avoid serious loss of property, physical safety, or life, you have a crisis. You must act, and hopefully with enough presence of mind (which is to say thoughtfulness) that your action will be effective in preventing disaster.

I often tell my clients: If your pants aren’t on fire, you don’t have a crisis! This typically evokes a laugh, but contains an essential truth: true crises is rare, much more rare than you may think.

Yes, and you should. Think of what first responders do (i.e., hospital Emergency Room staff or firefighters of all sorts)–they a) anticipate disasters, then b) plan their response, and c) practice their response until they can respond to an immediate need correctly and quickly.

Who should prepare for a real crisis? Two sorts of people, especially:

  1. Those whose lives actually bring them in contact with true emergencies (example: a mother with a child whose medical condition can easily escalate into a medical emergency);
  2. Those who often feel like they’re facing a crisis but actually are not.

Preparation for crisis is not a solution. Over-responding is still going to occur. But a return to an accurate view of things will probably occur more quickly after a sense of crisis is triggered.

You have, or feel you have, an immediate threat.

If the threat is visible and you can act to contain it or move away from it, do so - now.

Consider talking with someone you trust who is available.

Seriously consider calling this excellent resource, where you will be connected with trained professional helpers. You have nothing to lose in trying this, and quuite likely it will be helpful -

Call, text, or chat 988 to be connected to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. It is confidential, free, and available 24/7/365. The ten-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is still active along with 988.

988 Lifeline services are available in Spanish, along with interpretation services in over 250 languages. For people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and TTY users, use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Contact the 988 Lifeline if you are having:

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Mental health crises
  • Substance use concerns
  • Any other kind of emotional distress

You can also contact the 988 Lifeline if you are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

First - Recognize that you have time. Slow down. Be deliberate so that you won’t make unnecessary mistakes.

Second - Decide whether you want to use Self help or Help from other people. You can certainly try solving your problem without outside help first, if you prefer, and many people do.

Finally - Consider the benefits of using some straightforward Problem solving, which can be used by you alone or with assistance from a supportive other person.


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