Crisis is a normal part of life, but recovering can be a challenge. In most cases, life after a family crisis doesn’t look exactly the same as it did before. Navigating these changes can be stressful for everyone in the family, which is why crisis management and intervention is such an important part of the process. If your family is going through a difficult event, you must be proactive in working toward recovery.
Stress and Crisis
Stress and crisis are both difficult experiences for families, and it’s important to understand the relationship between the two. Some experts use the words interchangeably, but many agree that a crisis is a short-term event or period of time while stress is the physical or psychological effects of the difficult situation. A crisis may only last for a day, but the resulting stress can affect families for months or even years.
A crisis is a major life event that requires individuals or families to change their normal routines or behavior. Most family crises occur in three stages:
- 1. Onset: The beginning of the event and the family’s realization that there is a crisis. Families may feel shock or disbelief at the onset of a crisis before gradually accepting that the situation is happening.
- 2. Disorganization: A decline in the family’s functioning and the loss of the normal roles and routines. Normal tasks like cooking, chores, and paying bills may not be completed as the family is overwhelmed by stress. Relationships within the family may become either more supportive or more hostile.
- 3. Recovery: The arrival at a new routine, new family roles, and new expectations. The family starts to imagine a return to normalcy, but their lives will probably not be the same as before the crisis.
If your family doesn’t have healthy coping skills, it may take a while to reach the recovery phase. The stress of navigating the trauma can make it difficult to reorganize your family and find a new routine.
Stress can be both a physical and mental state of being. Here are some of the most common symptoms of stress and distress:
- Low mood
- Outbursts of anger, hopelessness, or other emotions
- Loss of interest
- Changes in weight
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Physical pain or discomfort
- Racing heart
Long-term periods of stress can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health. It’s essential that you and your family respond to crisis right away to reduce your risk of long-lasting stress.
Types of Family Crises
Unfortunately, there are a wide variety of crises that can affect families. Here are some of the most common types:
Illness, injury, or death: When serious illness or death occurs in a family, all of the roles and expectations change. Other family members have to step in and fulfill the sick or deceased individual’s role while also coping with grief or anxiety about the illness.
Infidelity: An extramarital affair can cause a major shift in the relationship dynamic. One partner may feel like they can no longer trust the other or depend on them for emotional support, which can lead to stress, anger, and uncertainty.
Unemployment: Job loss causes financial uncertainty and role changes within the family. They may have to change their lifestyle or reevaluate their priorities in order to survive with less income.
Families can also experience developmental crises, which may be expected or planned for. The following are examples of developmental crises:
- Child starting school
- Child leaving home
- Parents aging
While many of these events are planned or predictable, they can still cause stress and uncertainty for families. Developmental crises usually permanently change a family’s routine and structure.
How to Deal With a Family Crisis
Family crisis management and intervention is vital after a life-changing event. Families can use a variety of stress management techniques to recover and reorganize after a crisis.
It’s important to avoid blaming each other for the event. Some family members are probably already experiencing guilt and self-blame, so support can be helpful. You should be aware of any possible destructive impulses you may have and take extra steps to keep them in check. Whenever possible, try to have fun with your family, too. It may feel unnatural to do something fun in the wake of a crisis, but it can help temporarily take your mind off of the event.
Professional intervention can be valuable during or after a family crisis. Therapists are trained to assess the impact a crisis has had on a person and to help clients express their thoughts and feelings about the event. Crisis counseling can also help families brainstorm strategies for restructuring their lives and finding a new normal. The therapist is a neutral figure who isn’t experiencing the stress of the crisis, so they can help guide the reorganization and recovery process.
Your family doesn’t have to recover from a crisis alone. Dr. Howard Samuels is an experienced, knowledgeable therapist who serves clients in the Los Angeles area. If you’re going through a crisis or other mental health struggle, reach out to Dr. Samuels today for help.