Lemons into Lemonade: How to Make the Most of a Crisis

The Greek root of the word crisis is “to sift”, as in to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important. That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most. The rest falls away.
— Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On Warrior

Sometimes things in life that appear to be negative, even tragic, at first glance can actually be healthy for us to experience -- perhaps painful, uncomfortable, or awkward, but beneficial nonetheless. Crises often fall into this category.

While they can knock us down, upend all that we’ve built, reduce us to tears, and tear at our hearts, crises can also serve to make us stronger than we ever fathomed possible.

The next time you’re faced with a good crisis, consider the following silver linings:

  • Crises pull us into the present moment.

Confronting a crisis naturally compels us to be fully engaged in the moment at hand and forces us to evaluate the current state of things.

Too often we get caught up ruminating on the past or fixating on the future. We frequently replay past scenarios in our minds or get stuck focusing on what the future might hold so we can better plan and prepare for it.

But our focus is most beneficial to us when it’s in the present moment, because the present moment is the only place where we are able to take actions and make changes.

  • Crises can give us perspective.

How often have you gotten injured, or had your kid or pet get sick, or heard about something awful happening to a good friend, and had that experience serve to pull you out of whatever habits, routines, or patterns you’d become mired in and cause you to simply feel gratitude for all that you’ve had and all that you’ve experienced?

Bad events can be blessings in disguise when they cause us to have renewed appreciation for all of the things that we tend to take for granted in life.  

  • Crises often present us with an opportunity to learn and grow.

Sometimes a crisis will push you to to step-up right then and there in the moment. You may be forced to adopt a different lens, move outside of your comfort zone, or think creatively to hit upon a solution to the problem at hand.

And even if a given crisis doesn’t immediately demand for you to grow, there is usually much to be learned after-the-fact from going through a crisis. --That is, as long as you possess the requisite awareness and conscientiousness to properly reflect on it.

Similar to learning from any failures that might color your life, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow from each and every crisis. Don’t let them go to waste.

All of the silver linings aside though, don’t get me wrong - I hate having a crisis just as much, if not more, than the next dame. In fact, they’re especially painful for me, because when my fears or anxieties get triggered in some way, I immediately crave certainty and control. And when one has a crisis, it’s typically characterized by a lack of certainty and the feeling of being completely out of control. That’s just the gorgeous, demented nature of a crisis: you’re confronted with a crazy scenario and feel intense pressure to figure out how to solve it.

For me, crises tend to create a negative feedback loop of anxiety. The longer I feel uncertain of what decision to make or what route to take, the more my anxiety builds, and the deeper I slip into paralysis, becoming its helpless victim. Akin to struggling in quicksand, the more I flail and try to fight, the faster I sink and get swallowed-up by the crisis.

So how do you break that cycle?

In case you suffer from a similar battle with anxiety in the face of a crisis, here are a few things I’ve found to be helpful:

1. Calm down and breathe.

If you’re into meditation, meditate. (If you’re not into meditation, I’d encourage you to try it at some point...but not necessarily for the first time when you’re going through a crisis). There are a slew of helpful meditation apps out there (in no particular order or allegiance, some examples are Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, etc.) if you’d like to try it out.

Breathe. When your fight-or-flight nervous system takes over, it paralyzes the part of your brain that’s best-equipped for rational thought and problem-solving. This latter part of your brain can be incredibly beneficial to you in a crisis, but not if it’s shut down.

You need to calm down to get your brain to reset. Try closing your eyes and taking some slow, deep, even breaths. (Taking a break and doing this once in awhile throughout the day can even be helpful on a more general basis to lower your stress level).

Take a step back. More than likely, things are going to work out and be okay.

2. Escape to an environment where you tend to feel centered.

Maybe you have a favorite bench somewhere, a go-to scenic lookout where you like to spend time. Or maybe there’s a place from your childhood that you fondly remember and can revisit.

Go to a place that calls to you. Go to a place that inspires you.

For me, this place is the mountains. If I can go spend some time hiking, trail running, or snowboarding in the mountains, I inevitably start to feel reconnected to my core self.

3. Make decisions from the place of your core/best self.

While I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad idea to get advice or guidance from friends or family, the fact is, you are the only person who can truly solve your own crisis. You need to make the necessary decision(s) yourself and learn from whatever happens.

While friends or family can be a great sounding board, I’d encourage you to only go down that path briefly and just for the purpose of gaining insight into different perspectives or options that you might not have considered.

You can only go so far with this exercise because it’s ultimately you who has to face and deal with your own crisis. No one else can do it for you, no matter how much they may want to.

If you’ve been agonizing over a crisis, you may feel like you don’t know how to move forward. When that’s the case, although it may not be intuitive, it usually means you actually need to take a step back. Perform the steps above, and once you’ve gotten to a place where you feel centered internally, where you feel in touch with your core self, try contemplating the crisis from that place, and see what your gut, your deepest “inner knowing”, tells you to do.

If you feel inclined to try these steps out, let me know how it all goes for you. If you have any other suggestions or techniques you’ve found helpful when faced with a crisis, please be sure to share them in the comments to this post.

The beauty of a crisis is that it can serve to reveal what’s truly important in your life. So the next time you’re faced with one, I’d encourage you to take the necessary steps to gain perspective on the situation. Sift out and hold onto what matters. And then allow the rest to fall away.