How Do You React in a Crisis?

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In November 2008, I had my first and only (knock on wood) car accident. I had just picked Jayden up from my parents’ house after work on a rainy Thursday. On the way home, a deer ran out in front of me. I hit it at 40mph, skidded into a ditch, and my car rolled over. The first thing I became aware of, other than the fact that I was upside down in a ditch, was the sound of Jayden screaming.

I located the emergency flasher button as I shouted, frantically, “Where are you hurt?” Jay just kept screaming. I took a deep breath, trying to ignore the mental pictures of my child with contorted limbs. I could feel broken glass crunching under my hands as I worked to extricate myself from the seatbelt.


He stopped screaming. “I don’t think I’m hurt, but we just had a wreck, Mom! Did you see how big that deer was?”

I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. My child is okay. Time to rock and roll.

I fumbled around in the broken glass until I found my cell phone. I managed to find the button to roll down the front passenger window, which was facing the road. We wiggled out of the car.

A man ran up to us. “I called 911. Is there anyone else in the car?” I shook my head. “I can’t believe you guys are standing here!” he exclaimed. “I thought for sure we’d need an ambulance.”

An off-duty EMT (who happened to be driving by) checked Jayden for injuries while I waited for the police. I spent the next hour recounting what happened, instructing the wrecker to take my car to a particular body shop, calling the insurance company, and calling my mom to pick up Jay. People kept asking me if I wanted to get checked out at the hospital, and I refused. I had too much to do.

It wasn’t until much later, when I got back to my parents’ house, that I realized why everyone was so pushy about going to the hospital. My arms and neck were covered in scratches from tiny bits of broken glass. The real winner, though, was my forehead, which still had a little chunk of glass sticking out of it. I looked like I’d been shot. I didn’t even notice the blood all over my face or how badly my head hurt because I’d been too busy doing what had to be done. As I looked in the mirror, the enormity of the situation hit me and I burst into tears.

How Do YOU React in a Crisis?

Throughout multiple emergency situations in my life, I’ve learned that there are four main reactions to crisis situations. Do any of these sound like you?

The Robot. This is me. When something major happens, I go on some kind of autopilot. I’m able to suspend my emotions while taking immediate action to deal with the crisis. Later, after everything is calm and the worst part is over, I take time to sit back and determine how I feel about what happened.

  • Strengths: able to diffuse stressful situations and take charge, can help calm or comfort others
  • Weaknesses: reactions to trauma may be more intense due to delayed onset, may refuse to rest or accept help

The Ostrich. These people simply cannot deal when things get out of control. Whether it’s a minor nosebleed or a death in the family, ostriches have to find a way to escape. They may physically leave the scene of a crisis, or they might distract themselves by making jokes or talking about something unrelated.

  • Strengths: can serve as a welcome distraction for others, are usually the first to return to “business as usual” following an emergency
  • Weaknesses: may bury emotions related to the incident and never deal with them, could appear unconcerned or unsupportive

The Banshee. When a banshee is around, the whole world knows it. These are the people who react openly and acutely to a crisis by crying, screaming, fainting, or generally freaking out. They may also struggle with strong feelings of regret later when they realize they were unable to help during the crisis.

  • Strengths: deal with emotions immediately without worrying what others think, able to accept support from others
  • Weaknesses: unable to make decisions, may be viewed as an attention hog by others

The Reporter. Reporters need to know all the facts about a crisis situation. They want every detail, down to what color socks you were wearing when your lawnmower was stolen. These people are looking for answers and will stop at nothing to get them.

  • Strengths: gain knowledge of the crisis that may be useful later, able to remain calm
  • Weaknesses: may intellectualize emotions instead of experiencing them, could appear cold or unfeeling, may not be able to translate findings into a course of action

No matter how you react in a crisis situation, it’s important to realize that there is no “ideal” or “best” way to deal with emergencies. Each “crisis type” has strengths and weaknesses, and families with a combination of different types tend to work together to survive tough circumstances.

Your Crisis Type and Your Finances

The way you react to crisis situations says a lot about how you may deal with your finances. Ideally none of us would ever go through a financial crisis, but they do come up from time to time.

Imagine for a moment that your checking account is overdrawn and you’ve been hit with an overdraft fee. Here’s how you might react initially, according to your crisis type:

The Robot: “Holy crap, my account is in the red! I better go make a deposit before any more fees hit. Then I’ll call the bank and ask to have the fee waived.” (Tons of action, but no time spent figuring out what happened or why.)

The Ostrich: “My bank account is overdrawn? Well, no use getting upset about it right now. I’ll check on it later. Right now I need to check out these Thanksgiving leftovers that are calling my name!” (Note the avoidance of the topic and a promise to deal with it “later.”)

The Banshee: ”WHAT? My bank account is overdrawn? How could this happen? What am I going to do? Oh my gosh, my life is over. My credit will be ruined. I’ll never get a bank account again. I can’t handle this!” (Note the hysteria and inability to take action or think rationally.)

The Reporter: “How did this happen? I need a spreadsheet of every transaction on this account for the past 3 months. Then I’ll compare that to the organized box of receipts I keep. I’m also going to look up the regulations for overdraft fees and print a copy for my records.” (Lots of dealing with the how and why, but no real action to deal with the problem.)

What do you think?

Do you see yourself in any of the four crisis types? How does that relate to your finances? Let me know what you think!

  • Daisy

    Hmm I’m not too sure what I am.. maybe closer to the robot. I’ve never had a crisis that’s that bad where Id have to react in one of those ways. Except the one time when I was driving my dad’s van with a friend at 3:00 AM and the breaks cut out in the middle of a uturn and we ended up in the ditch. Then it was more like robot, but I kept laughing, cause I guess I was so insanely tired.

  • PKamp3

    I think I’m closest to the reporter, the “why did this happen… let’s get to the bottom of this” type. I hope that means I also take action, but I’m sure I’ve dropped the ball before!

  • Tanner E

    Awesome post. I’ve been thinking about responses to stressful situations recently. I think I am the Robot. I will deal with the situation first and make sure everyone’s ok and reassure everyone (but myself), make plans towards the goal and deal with ‘me’ later (which turns to never or until I have a breakdown). My older brother is the Ostrich and my mother is the Banshee.

  • Mid Life Miser

    Interesting post. I think my reaction will vary depending on the situation. However, I I tend to be more of the robot….with reporter tendencies. I deal with the situation at hand and then try to figure out everything afterwards.

  • BalancingTheFs

    for me it depends if its a small issue i tend to over react and not really deal but for important stuff where i know i need to get stuff done i go into mega robot mode

  • zolemia

    I have never thought of the different reactions to stressful or emergent situations quite the way you described, interesting take. I have always had a calm, analytical approach during the situation, and myself is last on the priority list for sure. I guess that would mean that I fall into the robot label. As a nurse, it is a benefit to be like that, which is why I was on the code team and worked in intensive care. Just like you pointed out, the downside is the refusal to rest or accept help….so “me”.
    Great post, as always.

  • Teinegurl

    hmm…i think i may be combination of ostrich and reporter :-/

  • Carrie Smith

    When I’ve taken a few personality and aptitude tests, and I’m almost 50/50 with the results. I’m totally a robot at first, then I change into a reporter and want to figure out every little detail so it doesn’t happen again. I don’t want to worry about how it happened at first, I just want it fixed.

    I’m glad to hear you guys walked away from the accident okay. I’ve been in 2 major accidents myself (none my fault) and I feel very lucky. It’s really scary and comes as a big shock. But it’s good you were able to handle it calmly.

  • Marissa

    Can you be a combination of the Robot and the reporter? If so, then thats me. I think take on different roles when prompted by others. For example, when I had my one and only (knock on wood) accident/car rollover, I reacted the same way as you. Figured out what to do, got the work done, hunted for a new car all in a matter of 3 days. Then it hit- I examined everything, attempted to come to terms with it by….. running away to cuba for a week. In hindsight, going away and being alone with my thoughts was the best remedy for me.

  • Little miss moneybags

    Great analogy. I’m somewhere between a robot and a reporter. I want all the facts, ma’am, and I ask questions by rote like the robot. I only break down when the danger has passed.

    It’s good to be able to function in an emergency, but it means I don’t always deal with the emotional side of things.

  • Andrea P

    I am most definitely a robot. Then after the fact I start mulling things over and processing things.

  • Jake from Debt Sucks

    First off - never ever ever ever EVER swerve for a deer. Fuck the deer, save yourself.

    Now that I’ve got that out of the way… I’m a robotic reporter, and damn proud of it. I don’t freak out about hitting deer or spinning out. Got my first doe doing 75. Looked down, “oh, I’m doing 75.” Looked up, “oh, that’s a doe.” Checked the damage, threw some cones out, called for a wrecker, convinced the staties not to cite me for not having a current insurance card on me. First 180 I did, I said “hurr durr durr, road’s wet” as I came to a stop perfectly in the other lane.

    • Andrea @ SoOverDebt

      I didn’t swerve. I hit the bastard. But I didn’t think about the fact that I needed new tires and the roads were wet. It was not a fun time.

  • Drivers Insurance

    Having just hit a deer last week (it’s that time of year here in Michigan) I know I’m the robot. I prefer to be the one making the decisions and taking care of business. It sure does help when the process runs smoothly and everyone is safe.

  • Fabulouslyfrugirl

    I’m definitely closer to the robot and then it really hits me afterwards the severity of the situation. Having said that, when I do freak out afterwards, it can be a big freak out…

    I’m so glad that you and your little boy were ok. The car accident must’ve been so scary…

  • Melissa

    Hmm, I’d say I’m probably half Robot, half Reporter. When any sort of problem happens, I’m usually all about coming up with the most simple solution, and then figuring out what happened, so it doesn’t happen again. But at the same time, I definitely have a tendency to BOTH over think problems (even things that aren’t actually problems) and over simplify problems (even things that are way, way more complex than I realize.) So I think you’re totally right that there is not right or wrong way to deal with a crisis.

  • Eemusings

    Fab post! I’m probably either a reporter (appropriate seeing as I’m a journo) or robot - keeping coolheaded and just going on autopilot to deal with the immediate problem.

  • Ashley @ Money Talks

    I rolled a car once too. Luckily I didn’t have anyone else in the car with me. I’m a robot, no doubt.

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