whats-your-planEmergency planners will tell you it’s if you have an emergency, it’s when you have an emergency.  As I type this, Hurricane Matthew is preparing to bear down on my home and family. I feel ok because we are prepared.

The most basic plan for emergencies involves having four things in place:

  1. Awareness of Your Surroundings and Your Risk
  2. An Emergency Kit
  3. A Communications Plan
  4. An Escape Plan

I would like to suggest to you that you should have a similar list of things in place for emotional/relational emergencies. Because it’s not if, it’s when your emotional or relational life enters the emergency zone. Identifying and responding to emotional/relational crises is an important part of your long-term health… including your physical health.

What is an emotional/relational emergency? I Googled “crisis” and found this definition: a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. So we’ll go with a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger in your emotions or relationships.

Just today I heard a story of a guy who went to the emergency room with chest pain thinking he was having a heart attack. It turned out just to be stress. That sounds like an emotional/relational emergency to me.

1. Awareness of Your Surroundings and Your Risk

Awareness of yourself and how you respond to others is the foundational first step.

The man I mentioned above wasn’t aware of what was going on inside of him. He was probably living in “high-alert” status for months. You need to know yourself. Personality inventory systems can be great tools for learning about yourself. The one I am learning about right now is called the Enneagram. It’s an ancient system based on over two millennia of observation.  You can find several free tests online. You can also find more extensive paid tests. Having taken several personality type inventories (e.g. Myers-Briggs) and found them somewhat useful, I will tell you that I think the enneagram is a really powerful tool for self-understanding.

Know what around you might move you toward an emotional/relational emergency. What types of things get a rise out of you? When do you feel like retreating? When do you feel shame rise inside you?

2. An Emergency Kit

This doesn’t have to be a physical kit, but it could be. It could include chocolate!

For emotional/relational crises, the emergency kit is a toolkit of thoughts and behaviors you can call up when, in your self-awareness, you sense an impending emotional/relational emergency. It may be as simple as slow breathing if you are feeling anxious. For relational emergencies, the 30-minute break is a valuable part of the emergency kit. (If you are in a heated discussion and need a break, 5 minutes isn’t enough for the combat chemicals to dissipate and your mind to reorient. You need at least 20-30 minutes of doing something else).

I can’t give you a whole kit here (sounds like another blog post, eh?). But I can tell you that you need to learn and practice the things in your emotional/relational emergency kit ahead of time so they are readily usable when the time comes.

3. A Communication Plan

I am a pastor. As such, I am the emotional/relational emergency communication plan for many people. If you have a pastor that you have a good relationship with, ask for his or her cell phone number and for permission to call if you need to. Most pastors are more than happy to provide this. For you it may be someone else (e.g. a close friend or a therapist).

You may not have anyone. If that is the case, start thinking about whom you might call when you need to talk.

You might feel right now like you don’t need to talk to other people. You can handle it. I guarantee that if you really attempt to grow in self-awareness, you will find yourself desiring open, honest conversation that goes deeper than sports or shopping. You will realize that no one is an island. Perhaps you could handle it alone, but is that the best way to handle the emotional/relational emergency?

4. An Escape Plan

Be ready to give yourself a break if you need it. Take a day off. Schedule lunch with a friend. Go for a walk in your favorite space. Go to the bathroom. Pretend you are getting an important cell phone call that you have to take. This step involves being aware of when you need to escape for a while and loving yourself enough to do it.

Here’s a very important tip: an early escape is a small escape. Many small escapes will usually keep you from needing a big escape. I remember seeing a movie about a news producer. (I can’t remember the title.) The producer had a daily escape because the stress of producing a live news show was so intense. She would stop by a park on the way home, sit in a pier looking out at a pond and cry for a moment.

So, do you have an emotional/relational emergency plan?

I’m a big fan of writing things down because it has a way of making people think more concretely. Look at this list and write down what your emotional/relational emergency plan is.

  1. What kinds of things do you know have a high likelihood of pushing you toward emotional/relational emergency mode?
  2. What are 3-5 things you can do immediately if you find yourself headed into emotional/relational emergency mode?
  3. Who can you talk to?
  4. What can you do as an escape? Do you give yourself little escapes? If so, what exactly are your little escapes and when have you done them?

Some people have a full emotional/relational emergency plan and don’t even know it. In that case, writing it down can bring you peace because you can see that you are prepared for life.

Some people really don’t know what to do but muscle through emotional/relational emergencies. If that is so, start thinking now about how to be ready because it’s not if you have an emotional/relational emergency, it’s when.