It can happen in an instant. One minute everything is fine, the next a family is in the throes of an emotional crisis.
Sometimes it’s due to substance abuse. Sometimes it starts with an argument over seemingly trivial matters. Other times the stress of daily living–work, finances, unexpected setbacks–simply becomes too much.
Emotional health is essential to the overall wellbeing of individuals and families. When someone winds up in the midst of an emotional crisis, it can turn an entire family upside down. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, untreated mental and emotional health issues can lead to increased tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
It’s imperative that people suffering an emotional crisis get the help they need sooner rather than later–and that starts by diffusing the crisis.
Here are seven tips for defusing an emotional crisis at home:
1) Protect personal space
When people become anxious, personal space becomes one of their most precious possessions. When someone gets too close to them, their anxiety might intensify, making an already tense situation much worse. Respecting and protecting a person’s personal space is the first step toward defusing an acute situation.
2) Show empathy
There are two things that almost always make a bad situation worse: judging and dismissing the feelings of others. Even if someone is expressing opinions or thoughts that are not true, it’s best to listen to them, pay attention and even try to be supportive. Simply being present and empathetic can go a long way towards defusing a volatile situation.
3) Be aware of body language
People in the throes of an emotional crisis often become more aware of non-verbal cues. They pay close attention to the body language of those who are nearby, and if they sense tense or aggressive body language, they are more likely to escalate the level of anxiety or anger. Try to convey a sense of calm through facial expressions, gestures and movements.
4) Don’t dismiss dialog
While it can be painful and even exhausting to listen to someone vent, it can also be a great way to calm a situation. There may be shouting. There may be outbursts followed by long periods of silence followed by more outbursts. If possible, allow the dialog to take place. Listen and be as supportive as possible.
5) Set limits
It is not okay for a person who is suffering an emotional crisis to become violent. Make it clear from the beginning of the incident that violence of any kind will not be tolerated. Set limits by offering simple, clear choices and clearly laying out the consequences, which could include calling law enforcement for help.
6) Find the real reason for the behavior
Sometimes a person lashes out at loved ones–even though the loved ones have nothing to do with what’s actually causing the behavior. Identifying what is bothering and agitating a person in an emotional crisis is important. Listen closely to what’s being said and try to find the real reason for the behavior. It will help you identify the right resources to leverage to get the person help.
7) Ask for help
Many people are afraid to ask for help when there is an emotional crisis at home because they fear that their loved one will be arrested. In reality, however, there are many resources available that do not include calling law enforcement. Don’t be afraid to call in experts who can help de-escalate and stabilize the situation, such as the Behavioral Health Response Team. They provide free, 24-hour outreach and response–and can help get your home back to normal and get your loved one the help and support they need to move forward in a positive direction.