Laura Petrolino

How Do You Respond During an Emotional Crisis?

By: Laura Petrolino | February 12, 2018 | 
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Emotional Crisis

As communicators, we are who people turn to for help with crises.

We are the ones who have to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of utter and complete chaos.

Last week Gini Dietrich discussed the amazing work of Crock-Pot in the face of a sudden and intense crisis.

Just imagine being on the Crock-Pot communications team. One evening you sit down in your living room to watch your favorite TV show when all the sudden…..CHAOS!!!!

No doubt a similar situation has happened to many of you.

How did you respond?

I’m not talking about how you executed a crisis communications strategy externally. How did you respond emotionally and personally?

Likewise, when everyday life and work-related stress fill your bucket, how do you handle it?

What’s your emotional crisis communication management plan?

Do You Have an Emotional Crisis Management Plan?

Even though we are communicators and we might be trained extensively in how to deal with a crisis, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are good at dealing with stress.

And our jobs are stressful!

CareerCast rank PR as one of the most stressful careers in 2017. I don’t think any of us would argue with that ranking.

So while we can talk all we want about how to build a crisis communications strategy, plan crisis simulations, and make sure you have the right talking points, if we don’t talk about our emotional crisis management protocol we shortchange everyone we support during a crisis.

Including ourselves.

We also limit our day-to-day work, how we collaborate and work effectively with our teams and colleagues, and our long-term professional success.

Burnout, anxiety, and depression are all very common in our career.

You probably have a checklist of what your organization (or your client’s organizations) should do when disaster strikes, but do you have the same process laid out to help yourself through times of stress?

A crisis management strategy you put in place to make sure no matter what chaos is going on around you, you are in an emotionally and physically steady state AND can lead the external plan.

It all starts with you.

Internal Calm Drives External Calm

Chemically, we aren’t at our best when in a stressed state. We don’t make the smartest decisions, nor are we apt to use the same foresight and comprehensive reasoning we would during more tranquil times.

That’s why focusing internally can make or break your external protocol.

So we need to treat our own emotional state with the same care and planning as we do our client’s and organizations. We need to have an emotional crisis management plan.

Use these three simple steps to form your own emotional crisis management protocol.

  1. Know your tranquilizers
  2. Find a command center
  3. Designate your superheroes

Your work product, colleagues, clients, professional success, and overall well-being will thank you for it.

Know Your Tranquilizers

One of the first, most important steps in having a solid emotional crisis management protocol is to understand what your “tranquilizers” are.

These are the things you do which provide a sense of peace, even when everything around you is cray-cray.

Make yourself a list. This should consist of the places you can go and things you can do that make you happy and provide space to think.

(Things that empty your bucket.)

For example, my number one tranquilizer is being out in nature. Hiking, biking, outdoors activities, being swallowed up in trees, the smell and sounds of the woods, playing in the mountains, watching clouds, sunsets, sunrises, admiring the moon.

These are the places and activities where I find my zen.

Make sure these are all really “healthy” tranquilizers. And when I say that I mean more than just traditionally healthy, I mean they really are beneficial for your goals.

Don’t Run Sprints

Here is a good example: in my 20s, whenever I was upset my instant reaction was to go out and run sprints, for like…well…um…a couple of hours.

Now, anyone who has ever run sprints knows that this is not necessarily a great activity to participate in for an extended period of time.

Especially when you are already in a state of stress.

Unfortunately, my adrenaline would be so high that I could just keep going. Busting out sprint, after sprint, after sprint until I couldn’t go anymore.

While this calmed me down, it did so only because it maxed out my poor little body and central nervous system.

Not only was this not the best choice, but it didn’t leave me in the state of mind I need to be to go back and deal with the crisis at hand.

Don’t be me.

Build a Comand Center

Every successful superhero needs a command center, and so do you.

Just as with your tranquilizers, there are the things you have around you while you work through a crisis, which provide a sense of balance.

They might be absolutely stupid and pointless to the outside observer, but to you in crisis (who is all we care about right now), they are precious gems.

One of my best friends once told me that she could always tell what type of day I was having based on the playlist I was listening to.

When I’m stressed old school rap, my favorite being DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (that’s right…feel free to judge me).

Along with my rap, I have these special pens I love.

I need a notebook close by because when I have a million things running through my head I can think better when I write vs. type. Plus, I need to be able to doodle.

Doodling is extremely important.

These things aren’t elaborate or innovative, but that’s not what’s important here. They help me handle what’s in front of me. That’s all that matters.

Know Who Your Superheroes Are

Your superheroes are the people in your life you can turn to in a crisis.

They know the right things to say to you and can calm you down and help you think through your issues.

You can trust them to help, both with their confidence and their response.

These folks are hard to find. Especially if you want someone that understands the details of communications and some of the common stressors and obstacles you face.

The PR Dream Team serves this purpose for its members.

It’s a group of people to turn to when you face challenging work situations or just feel overwhelmed.

More often than not you know what to do, you just need someone to help talk you through it and provide some extra insight or thoughts along the way.

The PR Dream Team is a perfect place for that and everyone needs a superhero as much as they can serve one for someone else.

Form Your Emotional Crisis Management Plan

Tranquilizers. Command Center. Superheroes.

These three bricks need to be at the base of your emotional crisis management strategy.

Make your checklist. Put your plan in place. Surround yourself with people to support you.

The crisis management plan you create for yourself is the most important one you’ll ever build.

Photo credit: Me! This is one of my tranquilizers. Part of the shipyard in Portland, Maine, at sunset.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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