How to Stay Calm in the Middle of Chaos

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How to Stay Calm in the Middle of Chaos

How to Stay Calm in the Middle of Chaos | The Survival Doctorby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

I used to be like one of those fainting goats. If I saw an accident or was in danger, my mind just shut off. Apparently, something inside me thought, if I ignore it, it’ll go away.

But that was before I got into medicine. Now I know that there’s a good possibility that if I don’t take charge right away, worse things will happen. If you’re reading this, you’re likely to someday be in this situation also.

But how to stay calm and take leadership? I have a few suggestions.

Preparation Is Key

You readers know that. You prepare for everything else. Don’t forget your mind. As one of my fellow bloggers states, “knowledge weighs nothing.” It’s a great addition to your bug-out bag. And if you know what to do, it’s much easier to stay calm. Here are some ways to prepare your mind:

  1. The Survival Doctor's Guides to Wounds and BurnsRead. Reading all the posts in my blog is a good start. Maybe you’re interested in some medical subjects more than others. Then read some good books about them. If you go to other websites, make sure you trust the source. You can find a lot of details about just about anything. The question then becomes, who can you trust?
  2. Watch videos. The Web has some on just about any subject. The more ways you learn something, the more it will stick with you. But, again, know the source.
  3. Memorize—not a lot, but some things you should know like the back of your hand. That’s what we doctors do. We can’t possibly remember everything we read But memorizing the first steps to do in different types of emergencies helps you tremendously. For most wounds, that would be “stop the bleeding with pressure.” For neck or head injuries, or trauma you didn’t see occur, it would be stabilize the neck until you can rule out an injury there.
  4. Get hands-on training. There’s no substitute. Take classes on CPR, first-aid, etc. Most are a lot more fun than you’d think. You’re in a group of similar people who don’t know any more than you or they wouldn’t be there. And any instructors worth their salt know this. I used to think everyone in every class or seminar I attended knew so much more than me. I soon found out we were all in the same boat.
  5. Learn with family and friends. I’ve always said it’s great I know CPR, but little good that’s going to do me if I’m the one needing it. Also, you’ll feel much better in an emergency if you have someone with you who’s had some training. You’ll have the help, and the two of you can remind each other of things.

>> For on-the-scene reminders, click here for The Survival Doctor’s e-books.

Just Do It
  1. Take charge. Assume you’re the most knowledgeable person on the scene because there’s a good chance you are. Assume if you don’t take the lead no one else will. There’s a good chance of that also. The world’s full of followers and few leaders. In these emergency situations the choice of which to be is yours. And your choice to become a leader could easily save a life. If there happens to be someone more skilled, like an EMT, paramedic, nurse, or doctor on the scene, then do what you can to help them.
  2. Direct. People tend to stand back, but many are more than willing to help if they’re shown what to do. Pick out somebody, look at them, and say, “You, help me move this person. You, call 911,” or, “go for help,” etc.”
  3. Remember that doing something purposeful helps you calm down. If I’m watching someone get sewn up, I may get a little queasy. But if I’m doing the sewing, I have no problem with the worst of wounds. I’m focusing on the task at hand.
  4. Do what you’ve memorized. I was recently reading about an audience member having a seizure during a play. One of the actors came down, saw she wasn’t breathing, and did mouth-to-mouth respirations. He was touted as a hero, and rightly so. But the doctor in me was thinking, I wonder if this woman really needed mouth-to-mouth or, like many people after a seizure, only needed her airway cleared by being placed on her side. But the practical side of me thought, hey, in the end it doesn’t matter. She’s alive. The actor did what he knew, what he had memorized to do, for someone not breathing. And it worked.
  5. After you’ve done the first steps you’ve memorized, step back mentally, if not physically, and think. Try to recall some of what else you’ve learned—what you’ve read or seen or done. Throw in a little common sense, and you may just save a life.
Caveat: Not Everyone Lives

Even if you do everything to a tee, some people are not going to make it. It happens all the time to medical personnel. How to cope with that is another post. Actually another lifetime. But, in the end, you can take heart in knowing, under the circumstances, you tried and did your best. And that’s all you can do.

What about you? Have you ever been in an emergency situation? How did you react? How did the people around you act? What are your tips for how to stay calm?

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Photo: Flickr/Dave Bledsoe.

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  • Susan

    Perfect timing for this article, Dr. I watched how to do stitches this weekend. I was pretty woozy and I was only watching. I believe I need to learn to desensitize before assuming just because it is in my bug out bag I can confidently use the contents. Hopefully, there will always be a doctor around, hopefully.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Susan, I hope so, too. Thanks.

  • Dave

    So many of us have had CPR training and other trainings, and some just have taken charge of small groups like Sunday

    School classes even in life. If you have had no training the first thing is to ask for someone who has had some training in this situation. Today we have cell phones that helps a lot. One step at a time, First be in control of yourself is most important. I have had to do the take charge thing on occasions, until I got help on the scene of traffic accidents and other type situations. Panic only makes you another victim and helps no one. I was taught to count to 5 and if no one has taken charge do it. That count is done very rapidly. Time is important in most crisis situations, Focus on what you know is needed and delegate as DR. Hubbard has pointed out works most of the time. Cool heads prevail in most every crisis.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Dave.

  • CountyRat

    Focus, and breathe. My early exposure to medical emergencies threatened to overwhelm me because I thought that I was supposed to remember everything I had been taught all at once. Wrong. Take a deep breath (in AND out; don’t hold it) quickly take in the big picture, and then set about doing the one thing that needs to be done next. For me, that was the big “ah ha moment,” when I realized that, in an emergency, no matter what kind, there is always only one thing to do, that being, the one next necessary thing. The rest will come to you when you need it to. Right now, just do that one next thing and the rest will come to you when you need it to.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, CountyRat. Yes, when we’re anxious we tend to hold our breaths, which tends to make us more anxious. Remember to breathe.

  • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

    Thanks G.Scott. Good advice. I think that was what I was kind of getting at, for the non-military reader.

  • debnow

    When I was just beginning in respiratory school, my first on the job supervisor gave me valuable words of wisdom. He said, Whatever the situation, don’t panic. You can’t help anyone else or yourself if you panic.” That may seem like simplistic advice, but it has stood me in good stead many times over the past thirty years. You have to keep your head no matter what. Then you can help yourself or others.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Debnow.

  • G.Scott

    The best way to stay calm and stay in command of yourself in any emergency situation is, as any military person will tell you, is to drill for it…..your “body” takes over and does what you drill for, even amazing you that you could have done anything as you think of it after the fact……