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Some people undergo amazing transformations in emergencies: They can make a solid plan and tell everyone what to do in calm voice. The rest of us freak out, yell and drop things. The good news is, the rest of us can learn the ability to stay calm in an emergency. Here are some tips from survival and medical experts:
Get educated. The number one thing you can do to stay calm is to be relatively confident that you know what to do. Learn basic first aid, be prepared with (at least) basic supplies, learn some survival skills and download a few apps. The more you know the less likely you are to panic.
Focus on a goal. The magnitude of things going on during an emergency can overwhelm many people. Practice tuning everything out except the one thing you’re doing and learn to focus on one task at a time. If the house is on fire, focus on getting the people out. If you’re performing CPR, just do that one thing. If you’re the one calling 911, focus on the conversation with the operator and nothing else.
Breathe. In emergencies, the body naturally kicks into “fight or flight” mode. It’s common to start breathing rapidly and shallowly in the top of the chest – almost as if you have been running away from danger. You can override it by consciously taking long, deep breaths that feel like they’re filling the belly instead of the lungs. Tell the body you’re calm and the mind will follow.
Learn to adapt. Almost every day we find ourselves facing a situation that didn’t go as planned. Experts say that the people who practice adapting instead of resisting unplanned outcomes are more calm in general. The next time something small goes wrong in your day, view it as an opportunity to practice a critical survival skill.
Be bold. We are so attuned to following the rules that it can be difficult to break social rules when we need to. In emergencies it’s perfectly okay to take emergency measures like disturbing the peace, bossing around total strangers, ripping expensive clothing or taking charge of someone else’s property as needed to save lives.
Take care of yourself. For a healthy portion of the population, panic and worry don’t just dissipate when an emergency is over. Emergency situations, or the threat of an emergency situation, can cause prolonged panic, anxiety and worry that can keep you from being clear-headed in daily life. If you find yourself panicking or worrying instead of taking charge, learn a few tricks to manage anxiety. How to Stop Worrying by Dale Carnegie is a time-tested resource for learning to stay calm.