How to Keep Your Head in an Emergency

by Michael Saad
How to Keep Your Head in an Emergency

There’s an intruder in the house. Someone’s gone into labor in the checkout line. Your college hazing prank has gotten out of hand and now someone’s ass is on fire and you need to act quickly.

When an emergency hits, are you going to be the pansy that runs screaming, or are you going to focus and get you and everyone out of danger as fast as possible? Staying level-headed when everything you know hits the fan is easier said than done.

Here are three steps to keeping cool.

Take a Deep Breath

Maybe even two if you have time

The moment things go bad, your body responds automatically by dumping stress hormones into your bloodstream. Cortisol and adrenaline are great in some ways, but they can also paralyze you, make you dawdle prone to mistakes.

In other words, while you’re busy crapping your pants, your one chance to save yourself is rushing by.

If you can maintain a degree of awareness, you realize, “OK, this is actually happening now” and bypass those hysterical moments of panic. Stop, close your eyes, take a deep breath and consciously choose to relax and focus your mind.

Realize that you’re going to be hopped up on adrenaline but that you need to focus and stay calm anyway. Loosen your shoulders and pause for a few seconds to gather yourself. Then act.

Quickly Appraise the Emergency

The plans you make from here on out are going to depend on how much time you have. Scan the situation and figure out what the single most pressing problem is. If a relative has collapsed, clutching their chest, then getting them to a hospital is priority number one.

Worrying about the fact that he’s still in pajamas or about the shards of broken glass from a dropped coffee mug will only take time away from what’s important. Zone in on the one threat that’s life or death, or needs you to act swiftly.

This is trickier (and more important!) than it seems.

Let’s say your child has swallowed something poisonous. Appraise the situation: if they look like they can manage for another 20 minutes, shift your focus to finding clues about what the substance was and getting an ambulance ASAP. Here, knowing what they’ve taken will mean life or death a little later down the line.

But this situation is different if your child has cut themselves and is rapidly losing blood – because you have less time, your attention is better used finding a way to stop the bleeding there and then before calling for an ambulance.

Keep Buying Time

Once the main emergency has been dealt with, even if only temporarily, you can start looking at other parts of the crisis. Be aware that you may have to actively calm down others or remove them from the situation.

Constantly ask yourself if there’s anything you can do right now to improve the situation, and if the answer is “nothing” then ask how you can buy time.

With more time, your choices improve and you can think more clearly. More time also means a greater likelihood that help will arrive. As long as you move calmly through your impromptu contingency plan, you can keep acting knowing that you’re doing the best you can in the given situation.

Whether it’s an assault, natural disaster, accident, workplace emergency, medical problem or serious injury… your best chance of survival will be when you are calm and focused.

Calm yourself first, and you allow your brain to focus. Once it’s focused, you can start taking actions that lead you out of danger and to safety.


  1. Stop, breathe, stay calm.
  2. Determine what your immediate priority is
  3. Act. If you can’t act – buy time till you can!

What to do now?

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