Coming home from the airport last week and just 3 blocks from home, a driver decided to ignore a red light and hit my car. Airbags deployed and BMW Roadside Assistant came online to ask if I was okay. I wasn’t quite able to answer her question as I had not had a chance, yet, to count my fingers.
Emergency workers started appearing and while I could see that I had no physical injuries, I could tell I was in shock. The scene became a bit chaotic as police, fire, and EMTs showed up checking me out and then moving onto clearing the road, leaving me to figure out my next steps.
Overhearing that my car was going to be towed, I realized I had to get everything out of the car and began to organize my belongings. Since my car was in the middle of the intersection, the police began ordering me to get out of the road and if I did not do so immediately, they would arrest me.
I was getting a bit aggravated, by this time and when I expressed that to one of the officers, he proceeded to scream at me, “SIR, YOU HAVE TO CALM DOWN!”
I smiled and told him that as a psychologist, I know that his screaming at me would not help to settle me down. Fortunately, his boss came around and asked a very simple question that allowed me to collect my thoughts and feel a bit calmer. “Sir, how can I help you?” With that I took a deep breath, thanked him, and asked if someone could help me empty the belongings from my car.
He went onto tell me that in emergencies like this, my nervous system is all pumped up with adrenaline and he understood that I might be on edge. I thanked him for his understanding, and we developed the plan to get everything out of the car and transferred to my wife’s car.
The next day, I called the head of the police department and thanked her for the good work of the team and shared that there was a lesson about dealing with chaos and people who are victims in accidents. I suggested that the more senior officer should share his insights with the other officers.
As I’ve said before, the stress reaction cannot be managed. It is a biological response and we have to allow the system to run its course, but that response can be mediated by demonstrating a bit of understanding which allows our resilience response to kick into gear as well
Your Challenge This Week: Be understanding of someone who is going through an intense and stressful experience and take a moment to listen and offer help.