Expert Blog Compelling advice, stories, and thought-provoking perspectives straight from YourTango's lineup of Experts to you

7 Ways A Crisis Increases Stress and How To Fight Them


When a crisis occurs, stress goes up. Learn to identify this and fight the negative effect.

There are many types of crises that can enter our life.  These can be natural disasters, problems in our relationships, facing life changes, discovering significant health issues, or any of many other things.  Some crises are very intense and concentrated while others occur over a longer period of time.  The effects of some crises are relatively easy to address (such as running out of time every day) while others will require years to address (such as a major hurricane).  In any case, it is important to recognize the stress that is being caused by the crisis and to respond to that stress in a way that can help you to keep some sense of internal peace as you face the crisis.  Here are seven ways that the crisis can be increasing your stress and what you might do for each of them:

  • The crisis itself creates stress.  Encountering a crisis is in itself a stressful event.  When you are facing a crisis, acknowledge that this will have to be causing you some stress.  Identify how you are experiencing the stress and then address it.  At one end of this, you might be able to do something to lesson the actual crisis.  Another strategy would be to realistically assess what the effect of the crisis is (you may have made it something bigger than it actually is).  There are also techniques to directly confront the stress including relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, ways of relying on others, and engaging in physical activity.
  • Some things may be harder to do because of the crisis causing normal tasks to become much more difficult.  For example, after Hurricane Sandy the shortage of available gas made travel difficult as fueling your car could take hours.  In this situation, your two most helpful strategies are to see if there is an easier way to do the normal task (such as taking gas out of an unused car) or if there is a way to not have to engage in the normal task (such as by taking the train).  Side stepping the effect of the crisis can help relieve this portion of the stress.
  • Previous problems that were okay without the stress can now become so that their effect cannot be controlled.  A problem that you had under control is now unable to be controlled because of the crisis or the stress from the crisis.  Perhaps you had been feeling distant from your spouse but you had been able to keep up just enough communication to make things okay.  A crisis comes along and this takes up more of your time and now your relationship situation has become a real problem.  In this situation, assess whether this problem needs to be addressed now or whether it can wait until after the crisis is likely to have passed.  If you need to address it now, work out what else can be changed without causing another problem and give yourself the resources to be able to address this.
  • Repeated exposure to the crisis may happen more naturally than you are even aware of.  When your crisis is one that affects entire communities, or even if it is significant within your circle, the crisis is likely to be a common feature of the news, of discussions and even of undercurrents in other things that are discussed.  After a major disaster, people hundreds of miles away will continue to see images of the disaster over and over for hours after the crisis occurs.  Even people asking you how you are doing (which has some comforting dimension to it) exposes you to the crisis again.  It is important in these situations to find ways to give yourself a break from the repeated exposure – put in a movie, update friends using social media, engage in other activities.
  • Regular warning signs are now going off more frequently and can become overwhelming.  A month before Hurricane Sandy impacted New York City, I was receiving an average of seven alerts a day from the transportation alerting system.  These alerts were helpful to know what was going on with specific bus or subway routes as well as the bridges and tunnels.  Ten days after the impact of Hurricane Sandy, the same alerting system was sending me one hundred fifteen alerts a day.  This was overwhelming and what had been helpful was now an added burden.  Similarly, there may be things that you watch for as warning signs in a relationship (such as when your significant other does not want to kiss you).  If a crisis hits, these warning signs may become so frequent to be overwhelming.  The key here is to focus on the part of the crisis that you can control.  Also, in this situation disconnect the warning system, if you are able to.
  • The extra energy you get to initially respond to the crisis wears off leaving you feeling somewhat drained.  When a crisis hits, your body naturally reacts to give you what you need to fight or flight.  As time goes on, this natural reaction wears off and this is complicated by the fact that the novelty of responding also begins to wear off.  Fighting this requires you to be proactive and to pace your response.  After Hurricane Sandy, some volunteers tried to still work their regular job and volunteer through the night.  They quickly became burned out and too tired to continue.  Other volunteers paced themselves, responding for a few shifts and they are still energized to continue to help over the long haul.
  • May realize that others are not as committed to working over the long haul to truly get past the crisis.  If you are the person in the crisis and others are not committed to the long term nature of working to a solution, this can be very demoralizing and this sense of isolation will leave you feeling stressed.  If you have control of this, the best solution is to get others to be more committed to the long haul at the outset.  If you cannot do this, then control what you can – you.  Make sure that you remain committed to working on the long term solution to the effects of the crisis and that you nurture your motivation.

By paying attention to the stress you experience in connection with a crisis (regardless of its source), you can do things to counter that stress.  Doing so, will help you to maintain wholeness and peace in your life, thus reducing the negative impact of the stress allowing you to address the crisis.


Explore YourTango