What Happens to us in a Crisis?

Have you ever noticed that even common, everyday stressors seem to affect us more in a crisis?

Crisis can be a big, shared event like a natural disaster or a pandemic. Or, it can be more of an individual experience, like the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. Even in a shared event, though, each of us reacts in our own way.

One common reaction is that we tend to struggle with everyday stressors. Things that were small problems (or not problems at all) before, become more challenging when we’re in crisis mode.

To illustrate this, here’s a one-minute look at the lesson on crisis, from a seminar for church leaders in rural Togo (West Africa). The languages are French and Ewé, but we think you’ll understand.

Here’s a short illustration of what crisis does to us (If video doesn’t appear, click here.)

Try the lesson at home:

  1. First, stand next to another person, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Give each other a small push. You are able to withstand the pressure because you have a stable base. This is like life, when we have most of our basic needs met. We’re generally able to cope with everyday stress.
  3. Next, stand on just one foot. When there’s a crisis, everything turns upside down.
  4. Push each other again (gently). What happens with that little push? You’ll have a much harder time standing up!

This demonstration shows how crisis affects us. Simple stressors and everyday actions we could handle before may become very difficult.

When we have a crisis, we all get a little wobbly.

In the coronavirus lockdown, for example, many of us experienced added stress, and a decreased ability to concentrate. We found simple everyday tasks took longer, our sleep and work patterns were off, and we may have had other physical or emotional symptoms.

Understanding this destabilization can help us to respond appropriately to ourselves and to others when a crisis occurs. Remember, the crisis will eventually pass. Offering extra grace can make a huge difference, and helps everyone cope in a more positive way.

This seminar was part of a collaboration with the Mercy Ships mental health program. The facilitators in this lesson, Samuel and Soulé, are pastors from Togo who have served on the mental health team for several years.