Contain the Crisis: Slowing Down Reactive Behavior

By Bob VandePol, MSW
BLOG - Contain the CrisisHave you ever noticed how tragedies so often lead to additional tragedies?

When under the influence of the shock of traumatic stress, people – whether part of a family, an organization and/or a community – often make uncharacteristic errors in judgment that lead to further losses. Drunk driving charges, impulsive spending, violence at home and work, high-risk behaviors, precipitous resignations, increased suicide risk and hostile blaming are examples of how traumatized people can make a bad situation worse.

Like the presence of police blockades and flares at a highway traffic accident, good crisis management quickly establishes a perimeter in attempt to contain the crisis. Crisis leads to a loss of control, so leaders must immediately take charge of what can be controlled in order to “stop the skid”.

The same need is present psychologically. We can all understand why a construction worker would impulsively shout “I quit!” following a frightening accident on the job. But what if he needed that job and is living paycheck to paycheck? What if he really liked that job just 24 hours ago? What if a family is depending upon his income? Significant career-impacting decisions should be made thoughtfully and when one is in their best frame of mind. Very few people are in their best frame of mind immediately after a crisis event. Effective crisis response slows down such irreversible behavior until some safe equilibrium resumes. (Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry!)

Psychologically, that process is supported when someone in a leadership position – a parent, employer or recognized community leader – helps everyone to transition from chaos to a sense of order. When my mind is a panicked blur, I need quick, simple movement back to what I can understand and get my arms around.

 

Here are a few great methods for quickly reclaiming a sense of order following a tragedy:

 

  • Meaningful information. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep it simple. Make it practical. Focus on solutions to immediate issues. Repeat it. Repeat it again.
  • Resumption of a familiar schedule. We do best when our natural rhythms kick back in. Routine. No surprises. One foot in front of the other, just like yesterday.
  • Successful completion of familiar tasks. Doing something reduces that sense of powerlessness and helps us focus on what we can do, rather than panic about what we cannot. The structure of doing what we know how to do is helpful in finding a new normal.

The obvious ideal is to prevent the initial tragedies in the first place, but let’s face it – tragedies can and will happen. Containing the crisis and preventing escalation is objective #1 before subsequent resiliency initiatives occur.


Bob VandePol, MSW, Executive Director of Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance ProgramsBob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director the Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities. Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series.

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