How To Get Through a Crisis: Here’s Your Game Plan

In the midst of a crisis, sometimes you just need one practical idea.

Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash

I’ve read a lot about the importance of having a growth mindset, having a positive mindset, persevering in general, and wishful thinking — but none of those things have ever helped me get through a crisis.

The only thing that ever helped me was developing a proactive and a defensive mindset, and tackling small issues head on before they snowballed into problems that I couldn’t escape from.

It sounds counterintuitive to have a defensive mindset, but in the midst of a true crisis, when you’re grasping at straws, when you’re already behind… sometimes it’s the best thing to do.

It’s all about strategy.

Having a positive mindset might give you a burst of energy to plow through a few minor inconveniences, but when failure is your shadow, and when you can’t seem to climb out of the hole that you’re in, being friendly and courteous to your problems won’t help anymore.

You can’t wish this stuff away; you have to fight back.

First, ask yourself if it’s really a crisis.

A failing grade is not a crisis if you get another chance. A broken appliance is not a crisis if you have the means to acquire another one. A lost job is not a crisis if you know you can get another one in a reasonable period of time.

But a failing grade could be a crisis if you lose a scholarship, get kicked out of school, can’t afford a plane ticket home, and have no family to help. You’re about to be homeless and your private student loan can’t be deferred.

A broken appliance could be a crisis if your hot water heater floods your entire home, your insurance claim is denied, you’re one month into a mortgage that you can’t afford, and now your house is on the verge of collapse.

A lost job could be a crisis if you’ve run out of unemployment, your bank account is overdrawn, and you’re a few weeks away from eviction.

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter if it’s really a crisis, because if it feels like one, then you’re probably already in crisis mode… but it helps to take a step back and evaluate the situation before moving forward.

In the midst of a crisis, you might not be in the right frame of mind to think of a game plan. Here are some ideas to get you started. These ideas are applicable to a wide range of situations. Sometimes, all you need is one idea.

  1. Ask for leniency. From everyone. Credit card companies. Utility companies. Anyone you have to pay. Anyone who relies on you. Anyone you rely on. Your boss. Your friends and family. Your professors. The pharmacy. You’d be surprised; the people you ask are indeed human, and they probably want to help.
  2. Do you have family or friends who would be willing to help? Not everyone does, but if you do, don’t be afraid to ask. If they can’t help directly, they might have some ideas that you haven’t considered.
  3. Have you done your research about government programs that could help you? Don’t overlook this. Aside from cash assistance and help with food, some states will cover several months of rent arrears or utility bills if you have an emergency or lose your job. Some states will offer emergency child care for several weeks (including overnights) if you have an emergency that temporarily prevents you from taking care of your children. Some states will provide you with free phone service. Some states will pay your moving expenses if you have to relocate. You don’t know what’s available until you look.
  4. Have you searched for an advocate? There are advocates for almost everything. New York City even has a parking ticket advocate. Universities have advocates. Hospitals have advocates. Just google [your problem] advocate or [name of hospital] patient advocate, for example. Let them help.
  5. Do you need an attorney? It’s hard to find a pro-bono attorney on your own, but many non-profit organizations will pair you with one. If you can’t find a pro-bono attorney, and if you need something simple (like a letter, or anything that isn’t a full-blown trial), you might be able to work out a discounted per-diem rate. Speaking of attorneys, do you need to file for bankruptcy? Companies like Upsolve will help you file for free. They’ll do all the paperwork. You just bring it to the court.
  6. If you need extra money, there are jobs that you can start almost immediately. Uber, Lyft, Via, Juno, and other rideshare companies pay very well in certain cities. You can teach English online. VIPKid, Gogokid, DadaABC, and SayABC pay over $20 per hour and you can set your own hours after a quick interview process (I’d be happy to walk you through the process — just reach out and ask). You can deliver food or products by foot, car, or bicycle (UberEATS, Postmates, etc.). You can work for Instacart or a similar company, packing groceries for mobile and web orders. Don’t panic. There are jobs that you can start pretty much right away.
  7. Research the law. If you need to take time off from work, or if you need an accommodation of some sort, there might be a law that protects you. Google is your friend.
  8. Need to see a therapist and can’t afford it, or can’t commit to a weekly appointment? Some companies (like BetterHelp) offer therapy by text, chat, phone, or video call. Some reduce the fees significantly if you send in proof of income. You usually gain access to unlimited sessions for less than the cost of a single in-person visit.
  9. If you’ve received an administrative or legal decision that was not in your favor, appeal. You can appeal most decisions. Sometimes, you just need to write a letter. And often, if you lose, you can appeal again.
  10. There are non-profit organizations for almost everything.
  11. Religious organizations are often willing to help. Even if you’re not a practicing member of that religion.
  12. Get creative. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough.
    Let’s say you need just a little more money every month. If you get a few friends to sign up for Fresh Direct or Peapod, for example, using your referral link, you just made enough in referral bonuses to cover groceries for a month or two. This is just one example. Think about your crisis and ask yourself if there are any creative approaches that could help. Is there anything you could try?

It will not get better overnight.

But it will probably not fall apart overnight, either. You just need to stay one step ahead of the crisis. It’s a race; don’t let it pass you.

Everyone says to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. The truth is that usually, the absolute worst case scenario doesn’t happen exactly how you imagined it… but if it does, there are still ways out.

You might find your way out of this crisis in a few days, or you could still be feeling the effects next year. But you will find a way out. Just remember — all you need is one idea.

technical writer • site reliability engineer • engineering leader • all views are my own • 👩🏻‍💻

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