The current pandemic inevitably evokes thoughts about different stages of crisis that people mostly subconsciously go through but do not think a lot about. Just a month ago, in March 2020, people all over the world were sharing enormous shock over empty shelves in every single store, with toilet papers being the main product that was “disappearing”. Shelves were “swept out” . And, people could not stop asking, still in shock, the common question: What is going on? Where is this love between people and toilet paper coming from? Why is toilet paper all of a sudden the most important to people in this crisis? We all thought it would be food. Which it still was but not to the extend as it was toilet paper. This demonstrated that people react to crisis in a different way. The way we react and what we focus on depends on many factors such as personality types and traits, privilege status, geopolitics of current living situation, wealth, etc. (which I will be writing about at some another occasion). Here, I want to summarize some thoughts I came about stages of crisis that I got to learn, not just through the most recent one but also through some natural disasters, wars, and crisis of personal nature that I was a part of:
- STATE OF SHOCK: The first stage of any crisis is the state of shock. This might manifest as absolute shock or simple disbelief, depending on person and circumstances . When I say “absolute shock”, I mostly mean the feelings of paranoia that overwhelms one’s mind and body. Anxiety rises turbulently as people usually hear about what is happening but are not having enough information that can give them reasoning about what to expect. Also, some are in denial thinking “this is not happening to me” or wanting to believe that crisis will remain elsewhere far from their doorstep (or in case of COVID thinking that this is not happening in my country, this is affecting people in China and it will not go far from there). This is a bit of hope that people implant in their thinking in this stage while at the same time continue knowing that it really can impact them.
- STATE OF PANIC OR UNUSUAL CALMNESS (two opposites): This is the stage when one realizes that the crisis hits home so close that we better start planning, …. and that planning often needs to be quick. People’s survival mode kicks in and they start thinking fast, prevalently focusing on meeting their primary needs, needs for food, water, air, as primary people’s needs. Most recently, as I mentioned above, we witnessed ridiculous toilet paper buying, but when researching about this more I believe that people were still guided with the belief that material that toilet paper is made of is similar to that of protective face masks and that they all just wanted to make sure that they would be able to go out and be safe. In wars, in these times for example, people might make decisions such as sending unaccompanied children for evacuation abroad not knowing that they might not see them ever again. Also, in this stage some people are unusually calm, which I translate also as state of personal shock and numbness and not knowing what to do and what direction to go. In this stage, people also start searching for any possible information that is out there about crisis as they still do not know what is coming while they are now more aware it is coming. Anxiety, or unusual calmness, is still there and high.
- STATE OF SETTLING: By this stage, “it” has already happened. More information is available out there, however, what is available is most likely still not evidence based practice. People start hearing experiences of others and that can be comforting. There are some success stories and some lessons that people can use to improve their response to crisis and how to protect selves. There are more and more guidances from authorities and it start sounding as decision makes begin to know what they are doing. People can draw some conclusions off the situation. In this state, although many lost jobs and needed to readjust their lives to more quarantined and guarded style, they are still finding something they can relate with. By this stage they understand that regardless of what is going on, life continues. This means that the food industry and essential services will still continue to operate. No one will be unfed and there will be supplies. Anxiety can begin to be under control and people become more reasoning.
- STATE OF NORMALIZING: Crisis becomes new normal. By this stage people learned how to function in crisis. Decision makers start producing more guidelines and procedures to help people to know what to do to stay safe. People still have assumptions and doubts but is surely less than in stage 1 and 2. In this stage, people accept that this new life but people also become ready for it to be over and starting making more plans that sound like “when crisis is over I will …”. People start thinking about how future will look like. However, depending on other factors some people in this stage might have difficulties to see the future at this stage and might be scared of future.
- STAGE OF TRANSITION (ending): in this stage crisis is either finishing or becoming completely new way of living. People start transitioning to this new beginning. This is actually not ending but rather new beginning and new way of life not just for the individual but for the whole society. We have new normal standard life which might not be the same as it was before the crisis. People have new knowledge and new lessons they learnt. In this stage you will also not the same as the person and you will change. The way of living, perceiving the world and expectation will change. In this final stage people start to heal and grief, people start to reflect and bring forward any left or broken pieces trying to create a new picture of future life.
Every crisis comes to the end and provides new learning opportunities. How one will go through it, react to it and make decisions might determine their all future. Thus, it is important to remain calm and to know that decisions made in panic can be the one you regret all life. Asking for help and professional guideline is suggestible and recommended and we advise you to that. Maybe these stages might help you locate yourself in this very moment and make you understand that soon it will all be over.
(Ukwu, T., April 2020)