Ways to find help and support from people and organizations when you feel alone in a crisis

No one wants to face a serious crisis alone, but if unexpected circumstances occur, you may find yourself trying to cope on your own with a very challenging situation -- a major illness, the loss of a job, financial problems, the death of a close friend or relative, or the aftermath of a traumatic event or natural disaster.

You may feel alone because you are single or do not have your family nearby, or because you recently have been divorced or widowed. Or, you may have a partner who has a health condition and can't provide the day-to-day help you need. You may have even made a life decision that you wanted to be alone. If a crisis occurs when you are alone or have limited support, you may feel overwhelmed, confused, or uncertain about how to cope. Learning about your options will help you feel better prepared to make the right choices.


How a crisis may affect you at different stages of life

A major crisis can be frightening at any age, but it may not have the same effect at every stage of life. Here are some tips on coping at different stages:

When you are young

When you face a major crisis in your 20s or 30s, you may be coping for the first time with an event that seems overwhelming. You may not have any previous experience dealing with a very upsetting event, such as the loss of a job or a serious relationship, and you may feel that the effects will last forever. If this happens, it can be helpful to talk with people who have had experience with the situation you're facing. Sharing your concerns with more experienced friends and mentors won't necessarily make your pain go away, but these people can suggest ways to cope. This kind of support can help you see "the big picture" or gain some perspective on how the event may or may not affect you in the long run.

When you are in midlife

One of the challenges of facing a serious crisis in midlife is that you may have demanding work and personal responsibilities weighing on you as well, and you may have to consider many people's needs besides your own. Caring for other people is important, but when you face a crisis, it's important to allow others to care for and support you, too. This will help you find the strength you need to cope. You may want to set aside a few minutes each day to talk with your best friend or closest sibling or renew your ties to your faith community. All of these can help you take good care of yourself while caring for others.

When you are in your 60s and beyond

By the time you are in your 60s, you've probably experienced serious events and learned quite a bit about how to cope in a crisis. One key to dealing with difficult times is to draw on the things that helped in the past. Did you find it reassuring to have a pet, listen to music, or talk with a sympathetic neighbour? These things may help now, too. At the same time, you may face new challenges because you may have lost beloved friends or relatives who comforted you in the past. You'll need to keep reaching out to new people while also keeping in close touch with people you love. If you could use a daily or weekly check-in call or more frequent visits, let people who care about you know this is important to you. Even if they live far away and can't visit regularly, they may be able to suggest ways they could help from a distance.


Coping with a crisis when you feel alone

Let people know you need support.

Tell a trusted friend or relative about the crisis. Don't assume that the people close to you know that you need help. If you don't ask for support, they may see you as an independent person who would prefer to deal with the situation on your own. People who care about you want to support you and help you find any additional resources you may need.

Be specific about what you need

Do you need rides to doctors' appointments? Help finding a place to live? Someone to talk with when you feel down? The more specific you are, the more likely you are to find the kind of help you need.

Develop a strong support system

New and old friends, co-workers, neighbours, classmates, people from your faith community, or people from your military unit may be more than happy to assist you once they know you need help.

Consider joining a support group

A support group is a small group of people who meet regularly in person or online in discussion forums to talk about concerns they share. There are groups for almost every difficult situation -- natural disasters, specific illness, the death of a relative, financial concerns, or divorce. Members often become friends and support each other in ways that go beyond meetings.

Use community resources

Many local, provincial/territorial, and federal programs may help in a crisis. For instance, you can call your mayor's office or visit your city's official website for situation updates, or to find out about local programs such as shelters and food banks. You can also learn about these by calling the nearest United Way. The CARP website at http://www.carp.ca has helpful information for people 50 or over.

Be honest if you don't want to go into all the details of what happened

Remember that just because someone asks you a question, you don't have to share the details that you consider private or too painful to talk about right now.

Express your feelings in other ways that feel comfortable

You may want to keep a journal or write a letter to a friend that you could mail later if you choose. Or send short email messages about your feelings to people you trust. These can help you feel connected to people without actually seeing them.

Be patient with yourself

You may need more time to deal with a crisis if you don't have a partner or support network of family or friends. Try to be as gentle, loving, and forgiving to yourself as you would be to other people.

Keep up your routines as much as possible

Having a schedule for your activities will help to keep you moving forward in a crisis. You can create new routines, such as taking a walk at the same time each day or evening. By doing this, you may get to know and become friends with the people you see regularly.

Maintain good health habits

Try to eat healthy meals, get plenty of rest, and exercise three or four times a week. These habits will make it easier for you to cope with the pressures you're feeling.

Take time to reduce your stress

Many people find that it reduces their stress and gives them a sense of renewal if they practice mindfulness, meditate, sit quietly, read a book, listen to music, or spend time connecting with their own form of spirituality.

Focus on the things you can control and change

In a crisis, you may feel that many aspects of your life are out of your control. Focus on the things you can accomplish, and work to make improvements in those areas.

Look into a buddy system or telephone-reassurance program

Work out your own free buddy system with a close friend or relative to check in with you at the same time every day.

Reach out to others

They will benefit and so will you. Helping others can help you feel useful, needed, and hopeful and give you a new sense of purpose. Taking a break from only focusing on your crisis can speed your own recovery.


Finding support if you are ill or injured

Plan ahead

Think about the kinds of support you might need if your condition required hospitalization or a recovery at home. Ask friends and relatives if they could help. If they would not be able to help, develop a backup plan. For example, you might join a house of worship that provides hospital visits and other support for members.

Make a list of people who could help in a health crisis

Work with health care providers to draw up a list of needs you may have, such as hospital visits, home health care, and transportation to appointments. List the people who could do the tasks, so you'll know if you would need to look for additional help -- for example, by joining a support group.

Find a friend or relative who can help you manage your care

In a health crisis, you may have more needs than you can manage effectively on your own. Look for a friend or relative who can help -- for example, by going on some doctor visits with you. You'll appreciate the "extra set of eyes and ears." If you are an older adult who requires more medical support or companionship than government-run home care can provide, look into private home health services, or hire a geriatric care manager to coordinate your care.

Set up a schedule for meeting your needs

The best way to do this depends on your needs. For example, if your doctor advises that you have regular visitors, arrange for different people to visit briefly on specific days -- a relative on Mondays, a friend on Tuesdays, a co-worker on Wednesdays, and so on.

Look into national organizations that can help

Many national groups help people cope with specific health conditions. To find groups for people with your health concern, search the Internet for the name of your condition and "organization" or "association." You can also get a referral from your doctor.

If you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope

The American Psychological Association suggests that you talk with a mental health professional if you:

  • feel trapped or that you have no place to turn to for help
  • worry continuously and can't concentrate
  • find that your feelings are affecting your sleeping and eating habits, your work, your relationships, or your everyday life

Ask your doctor to refer you to a mental health professional. You may find getting a personal referral from a friend a good option as well. The program that provided this publication can also help you find a qualified professional.

Get help immediately if you feel so alone that you sometimes think of hurting yourself or others. Contact your health care provider right away, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.TALK.(800.273.8255). You will be immediately connected with a mental health provider in your area.



Finally, remember that even if you feel alone, you aren't alone

Many people and organizations can help you cope with a crisis. Keep looking until you find the appropriate support you need and deserve. Let people know what you need and how they can help you. You'll feel less alone if you explore many sources of support and choose those that best meet your needs.

Written with the help of Marjorie Dyan Hirsch, DCSW, CEAP. Ms. Hirsch is an organizational crisis management specialist, a corporate consultant and CEO of The Full Spectrum. She is also a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor and a board certified expert in traumatic stress. She provided debriefings for the Oklahoma City bombing, both World Trade Center crises and for the Miracle on the Hudson.


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