How to keep your wits in a crisis

I need a crisis management plan.

Seriously, so much is happening in my private life that I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel.

We are a country in crisis. There is the economic downturn we are still trying to recover from. Then throw in high divorce rates, caregiving responsibilities for children and/or elderly relatives, financial issues and other family burdens, and billions of dollars are lost each year in reduced employee productivity, according to Jim Moorhead, a co-founder of a crisis management practice at a Washington law firm.

Moorhead wants to do for individuals what crisis management teams have long been doing for corporate America. He wants to empower people to establish concrete plans to deal with the issues that come up in life. To that end, he has created a four-point process to help you manage your madness.

You’ll find the system in Moorhead’s book “The Instant Survivor: Right Ways to Respond When Things Go Wrong” (Greenleaf Book Group Press, $19.95), which is this month’s Color of Money Book Club selection.

Moorhead surmises that many people don’t have the tools or a road map to manage and resolve personal and professional crises on their own. As a result, they suffer in silence. Or they make their co-workers and supervisors suffer because they don’t know how to handle challenges. Try as we might, our personal lives often collide with our work life. And the crash frequently isn’t pretty.

“Despite the emotional, social and financial costs, we soldier on unarmed against trouble,” Moorhead writes. “We fend for ourselves and hope things work out. The result? Too many crises, too few full-fledged crisis survivors, and an expanding population of walking wounded on the professional and personal fronts alike.”

On an individual level, a crisis management plan can help people address troubling issues better, Moorhead says. Smart companies put such plans in place long before they find themselves in, say, a hostile takeover situation or involved in lawsuits. To mirror such planning, Moorhead developed the Instant Survivor system. Here are the five steps:

Stay frosty

In a crisis, you have to stay calm, Moorhead says. I know, that’s easier said than done. Still, your emotions can get in the way of making the right decisions. “As you maintain this frosty perspective, you must be selfish by focusing first on yourself, then on the facts of the situation,” he writes.

Secure support

You need a team to help manage a crisis. Oh, how I can attest to that. I have a friend, a former social worker, on speed dial so that she can calm me down when something crazy happens and I want to strangle someone. When my ailing father-in-law moved in, I was stressed out by the changes to our home life. My husband and I shared our experience with others and they gave us good insight. Their advice helped us tremendously. You need to build a team that can “help you implement your plan, move fast to respond to trouble, and stay visible to your allies,” Moorhead says.

Stand tall

This step is all about taking personal responsibility. You have to learn to make good decisions and stay flexible.

Save your future

Think of this step as the maintenance you do on your car. You can’t always stop your car from having repair issues. But you certainly can mitigate the chance of having a breakdown if you have the car serviced regularly. It’s important that you conduct a personal audit of the key parts of your life to identify trouble areas, Moorhead says. The point to this step is to prepare for the next crisis.

Moorhead shares his own personal struggles and that of others to illustrate how crisis management works. It helps to know you’re not alone.

Since we know life often comes with challenges, take the time to plan for trouble. When you do, you’ll breathe better during a crisis and after it’s over. Moorhead provides basic strategies to develop the crisis management plan most of us need.

I’ll be hosting a live online discussion about “The Instant Survivor” at noon Eastern (9 a.m. Pacific time) on Oct. 25 at Moorhead will join me to answer your questions. Every month, I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the featured book, which is donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of this month’s book club selection, send an e-mail to with your name and address.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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