Navigating crisis and pandemic situations can be very stressful. Understanding what is going on with your mind during a crisis is the only way to control your behavior and produce the best outcomes for yourself and others. See how to do it.
We have a crisis mode to handle dangerous situations; it’s our fight or flight or freeze response. It’s an automatic function that helps our bodies prepare to handle danger.
The Mind During Crisis and Pandemic
When we are in crisis, our primitive instinctual mode takes over. It releases adrenalin and a host of other hormones into the blood system. These chemicals give us strength and agility.
However, the brain needs to protect itself from these hormones, so it shuts off circulation to the higher thinking centers of the brain. So, this primitive instinct enables us to move quickly and be stronger, but our thinking powers are greatly diminished.
The fight or flight reaction works well for jumping out of the way of a predator but not so well when we need to think about things before we react.
Any fearful situation can trigger this primitive instinct. It is easy to become locked into this survival mentality in a crisis, engaging the primitive mind. It makes some people self-centered, selfish, and even violent.
Our frontal cortex is what makes us different from other creatures. This tool enables us to analyze what’s going on before we overreact. Sometimes, we don’t need to analyze the situation.
Let’s say we are walking on a path and encountering a rattlesnake. We jump back, and this saves us from being bitten. But, sometimes, we can make the wrong decision if we don’t analyze the situation. For example, in a hand-to-hand combat situation, you need the higher thinking functions of the mind to remain in control to analyze the ever-changing situation.
A pandemic is like being in hand-to-hand combat. It’s a dangerous situation that constantly changes but lasts for months or even years. Think of navigating crisis as a skill set you need to implement long-term.
“Emergencies send sparks to the darkest corner of us. They wake up our hormones and neurotransmitters, they remove the rust from our body and mind, and they show us we can still handle a crisis with poise.
Emergencies push us to our limits. At those limits, the best inside us comes out. The eyes of our mind open, exceptional vision occurs to us, and we have a chance to become extraordinary.” ― Indrajit Garai, The Seeker of Well-Being
Navigating Crisis Long-Term
Living long-term in crisis and pandemic situations has detrimental effects on decision-making. We don’t recognize what’s happening because we are experiencing stress over an extended period; things “seem normal” when these conditions are not normal.
It creates the disaster movie effect. Even though people may not show outward emotional signs of the trauma, it still affects their thinking. Diminished compartmentalized thinking becomes the norm. It prevents us from seeing other crisis that is also going on, like climate change.
Fear causes people to hoard goods to buy unnecessary things like guns. They are reacting to the fear and allowing it to filter all their decisions—the problem is they do not know how to control their emotional reaction to the situation.
These are the types who go to the grocery store during times reserved for senior citizens. They steal things they want from the shopping carts of others.
Think Positive During The Pandemic
Staying in a positive mindset is difficult in life-threatening situations, but it is a proven tactic that helps you keep the mind from reverting to the fight, flight, or freeze mode. Now for the bad news. The pandemic is not something that will end anytime in the foreseeable future. It is likely to last for years, putting those immunocompromised at risk. Otherwise, healthy people can contract other viruses like the flu in addition to COVID-19, which increases the severity of the illness.
Living with the pandemic long-term is the new normal. So, the best strategy is learning to think positive during the pandemic.
Tactics for Crisis And Pandemic Situations
Regaining emotional equilibrium is the only way to ensure you are making accurate decisions. When we decide based on fear or anger, it has negative consequences. Here are the steps that will help you regain control of your mind.
1. Acknowledge the Fear
The first thing you need to do is admit you are afraid. Once you do this, you can think about handling it and stop yourself from acting out of fear. That’s because fear quickly turns into anger.
Yes, a crisis is scary; but I refuse to act selfishly. I will preserve and protect the interests of myself and everyone in my circle of influence. Navigating crisis and pandemic situations requires acknowledging but resisting fear.
How do you acknowledge the fear but resist its influence? The key is in observing and controlling our breathing. You tend to inhale and hold your breath when you react to fear. So, learn to observe your breath. Then, when you feel yourself holding your breath, let it out. Take 3 or 4 slow breaths. If you can close your eyes, this also helps you in the process of observing your body. It’s the first and most important aspect of navigating crisis situations.
2. Be Aware and Act Prudently
Don’t deny or ignore what is going on. Hiding from your fears or concerns doesn’t make them go away. Also, please don’t engage in activities that flaunt the danger. In a pandemic, people who refute the opinions of epidemiologists and scientists make things worse.
Watch for people who get caught up in conspiracy theories. Don’t follow the opinions of those who are unqualified. Beware of those aligned with far-right political and religious agendas. Please don’t get caught up in their brand of delusions. It will only exacerbate your emotions. Think positive during the pandemic and avoid people or sources promoting extremist ideologies.
Learn to think before you act. Guard your words and actions. Learn to be aware of your surroundings and the larger community, but don’t let your emotions get caught up in negative thinking. People will tend to act out of fear or anger during a crisis.
3. Research and Follow Only Qualified Experts
The best advice comes from trained epidemiologists at organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (1). If you see others providing conflicting advice, don’t follow them. Emergencies change rapidly, so be prudent and resist acting out of fear.
The ability to maintain your emotional equilibrium is vital. Staying calm and thinking about the long-term consequences of your actions is essential. So, the incident involving the eggs you took from that lady’s cart will live on as an example of emotional behavior. She will tell the story to her friends and family, as will everyone who observes it.
Above all, stay away from talk show pundits spouting crazy claims contradicting real experts.
4. Help Others
Instead of taking the eggs out of the lady’s cart, offer the last carton to her. She’ll remember your act of kindness and tell her friends and family. It’s the kind of example you’d rather be than a selfish person. Sow the seeds of kindness and compassion instead of greed and selfishness.
Remember, the health of the individual depends upon the health of others. It’s the primary reason for setting up pandemic teams around the world. Stopping the spread of disease keeps everyone safer.
So, when we help the neediest, we are helping ourselves too. The homeless and economically disadvantaged (2) are the most vulnerable during a pandemic. The economically disadvantaged and handicapped have fewer options. Social inequities make essential resources scarce and out of reach. Be the person who sets an example of a healthy, well-adjusted person. Help those who aren’t able to help themselves.
5. Speak up
Keep yourself safe but don’t shut down. It’s a delicate balance between speaking out against injustice and putting yourself in harm’s way. So, reach out to those who are in a position to help. Use your smartphone to record incidents that showcase injustice and inequity.
6. Manage the Stress
Last but not least is remembering to take time for appropriate self-care. When you live in a culture under pressure, it causes a state of anxiety. So, managing stress will guard your mental and physical health.
Suppose you don’t know how to learn to meditate. There’s a simple but powerful two-step method everyone can use. Whatever other method of self-care you choose, schedule it and practice it. We know the right things to do but put them off anyway.
Navigating crisis and pandemic situations is an essential skill for everyone to learn. It puts things in perspective. People on the planet are separated not by language, geography, or oceans, but by the artificial boundaries we put in place.
Caring for each other and our beautiful planet is the only way to build a just and verdant social environment for the future. Learning to think positive during the pandemic is the new normal.
“In a world where millions of human beings live in extreme poverty, die of malnutrition and lack medical care, where pandemics continue to kill, it is imperative to pursue good-faith disarmament negotiations and to shift budgets away from weapons production, war-mongering, surveillance of private persons and devote available resources to address global challenges including humanitarian relief, environmental protection, climate change mitigation and adaptation, prevention of pandemics, and the development of a green economy.” — Alfred-Maurice de Zayas