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March 3, 2020

How Do You Cope in an Emergency? – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

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"Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options."

Simon Sinek, British-American author

How Do You Cope in an Emergency?

I wish every blog I write could be about a happy story. But life doesn't work that way. And what would a happy emergency look like anyway?

Maybe winning the lottery? I'm not sure. I have it on good authority that winning the lottery doesn't necessarily make a person happy.

Whether we like it or not, much of our growth takes place in the less-than-happy times. We can also often develop understanding and empathy for other people's circumstances when we're going through testing times ourselves...

Paradise Lost

Even though I grew up in the city, I had always dreamed of living on a farm. My then-husband and I moved to one shortly after the fall of apartheid in South Africa. I was ecstatic!

As well as keeping all kinds of animals, starting a huge vegetable garden, and restoring the old farmhouse, I also threw myself into working in a previously disadvantaged community close to us. It seemed like I was living in paradise, but it turned out not to be a paradise after all.

One morning while I was going about my chores in one of the outbuildings (I also ran a farm stall), a man living on a neighboring farm came in. He asked for a lift to town. I knew the person fairly well; it was someone we had helped previously, and I had no reason to doubt his intentions.

But because I wasn't going to town until much later in the day, he asked me to call a cab. About five minutes after I had made the phone call, the man came back into the shop. Suddenly he jumped onto the counter, and my first thought was that there must be a snake on the floor. (Don't laugh at my naïveté – there were some nasty snakes in the area!)

Money or Your Life

Then, as if in slow motion, I saw his hand go behind his back and reappear holding a knife. He started shouting at me to give him money or he'd stab me. He was about to jump off the counter toward me when I heard someone else shouting. Only after a second or two did I realize that I was hearing myself shouting!

The man was now just a few feet away from me, and trying to open the cash register. Movement at the back door caught his attention – my rottweiler, who had heard my shouts and come charging in. In a flash, the man had jumped over the counter again and run out the front door.

After making a few phone calls, the police arrived, my husband arrived, and our neighboring farmers all came to see how they could help. Although I'd suffered no physical harm, except for a superficial cut, I was shaken to my core.

Breaking Point

We, the police, and our neighbors patrolled the area for hours looking for the perpetrator. He wasn't caught, but the police were satisfied that he wasn't around anymore.

I struggled to fall asleep that evening. After I woke up the next morning, my first words were "What a nightmare." My husband didn't understand and asked why I said that. In his mind, the criminal wasn't in the area any longer, so everything was OK.

Yet for me, it was just the beginning – and I tried to deal with everything on my own. But, eventually, I had to seek medical help. I had almost reached breaking point. Dealing with an emergency on your own is a special kind of lonely, and it's not healthy.

Reach Out, Look In

I have since learned to deal with emergencies differently. Reaching out to others is high on my list of priorities, and I take all the help I can get. I make sure that I recognize my emotions. I feel them and I deal with them – as and when they happen.

It's no good denying them; that only makes them want to surface more forcefully. I get medical help if it's necessary, and I communicate with the people around me, to help them to understand what I'm going through.

I've also learned to ask others how they want me to support them – and I'll keep on reaching out to them until I'm sure that they're OK.

How Do You Cope in an Emergency?

During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we talked about how people cope in an emergency.

Here are some of your most insightful responses:

Q1. What do you think of first when you hear the word "emergency"?

@carriemaslen When I hear the word emergency, I immediately want to take stock of the situation. Who's where, what's at stake, how severe, what do we need to do.

@Jikster2009 Urgency vs panic. What is the actual emergency, who does it affect, and how?

Q2. What emergencies have you faced at work?

@J_Stephens_CPA We have had to deal with tornados in our office. Fortunately, they missed our office, but we spent an hour in the inside room. Our IL office had an armed intruder situation the week before I went there one year.

@carriemaslen We had a major product fail at work. Required all hands on deck to resolve.

Q3. What's your usual reaction to an emergency?

@BrainBlenderTec I analyze it in my mind's eye and look for the best possible scenario, and then do that.

@realDocHecht Depending on the situation, make sure everyone is safe and get to a safe area. Call for help if need be. It's difficult to stay calm in an emergency.

Q4. And what would you *like* your response to be?

@MicheleDD_MT Take deep breaths. This calms the mind & breaks the fight/flight response.

@PG_pmp How can I resolve situation to normal without any harm of any kind to any one?

Q5. What are some strategies to remain clearheaded in an emergency?

@Yolande_MT Shift your focus from how you feel to what you need to do, from emotional to practical. Acknowledge how you feel and then ask, "What do I need to do RIGHT NOW to cope/make this better?"

@Kringle Don't panic. Calm is improved by avoidance and pre-risk preparation. Thus all the old sayings, "measure twice cut once", "a stitch in time saves 9", "ounce of prevention = pound of cure" etc. Absent that, you have to really put things into perspective.

Q6. Who do you connect with when dealing with an emergency?

@DanielMaithyaKE People with expertise in the area of emergency.

@realDocHecht If need be the police, but operations or safety committee.

Q7. How would you like others to respond to you when you're dealing with an emergency?

@ZalkaB Please don't tell somebody who is in distress or emergency to calm down and not overreact. But try to listen, offer solutions and just try to empathize and be there for somebody.

@Midgie_MT I would prefer only comments from people who know what is needed, rather than 'helpful' suggestions that are not in fact helpful.

Q8. How might you support someone else as they are dealing with an emergency?

@lg217 Comfort them. Let them know they are not alone. Be by their side.

@harrisonia To support someone else who is dealing with an emergency, I am VERY conscious of my behavior and don't want to do anything that will bring them additional stress. I asked him if I can be of assistance and wait for them to respond.

Q9. How can you prepare your team for emergency situations?

@PmTwee Mock or drill all possible risk solutions to handle emergencies on a regular basis. Review with team to find best practices.

@Jikster2009 Practice. Everyone rolled their eyes at the words role play but by completing drills and discussing outcomes you can help people prepare. Have an agreement in place, assign roles and responsibilities in case of emergency.

Q10. What are your recommendations for what to do after an emergency has passed?

@YEPBusiness It's a good idea to gather the people and debrief. Let them tell their stories so PTSD is reduced. Validate whatever they're feeling and ensure that people can be guided out of emergency mode gently. Human touch is crucial at that time.

@SizweMoyo Be honest with yourself about where you are mentally after that stressful situation and learn to laugh at yourself compassionately. There's always something you could've done better or differently, of course, but yet you survived that storm with a hole in your jacket.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.

Coming Up

In an emergency, we tend to reach out to the people in our "tribe" at work. The topic of our next #MTtalk chat is "Who's Your Tribe?"

In our Twitter poll this week we want to know why you think people want to be part of a tribe. Please cast your vote here.


In the meantime, here are some resources relating to the topic we discussed (some of which may only be available to members of the Mind Tools Club):

Empathy at Work

How to Keep Calm in a Crisis

Planning for a Crisis

Managing Post-Traumatic Growth

Dealing With Anxiety

Physical Relaxation Techniques

Communicating in a Crisis

Coping With Change

How to Manage People With PTSD

Managing Conflicting Priorities

Cognitive Restructuring

Managing Your Boundaries

How to Join

Follow us on Twitter to make sure that you don't miss out on any of the action for our next #MTtalk chat Friday 13 March! We'll be tweeting out 10 questions during our hour-long chat.

To participate in the chat, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on "All Tweets" and you'll be able to follow the live chat feed. You can join the chat by using the hashtag #MTtalk in your responses.

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