When the World Feels Chaotic, How Does Community Provide Calm?

by | Sep 15, 2020 | Community Engagement, Community Resilience, COVID-19 Response | 0 comments

Strong community connections can help you navigate cascading crises.What are the tell-tale signs that you or the people around you feel out of control? Maybe you’re seeing uncontrollable crying. Snapping at small things. A general malaise. Lack of motivation. On the flip side, some people are doing things to the extreme: eating, sleeping, gardening, or even baking. You might see people taking risks without considering the consequences because, “why not?”

There’s also a hyperfocus on the basics: power, internet, water, food, shelter. You might need it all to be “perfect,” because it seems fundamental to how you think you are going to survive through the chaos. Right now, it’s not just the pandemic. It’s also the smoke-filled, wildfire environment. Jobs and wages are uncertain. Most people are still isolated, working and schooling remotely.

People become more intense and upset about things they believe they should control because so much is out of their control right now. You see greater anger about parking tickets, a utility outage, and customer service.

The cause is clear: a world of compounding and cascading crises that appear unending.

The world is one big community.

Even socially distant, we’re all part of the world community.

What was once commonplace and somewhat manageable – from downed power lines and water main breaks to wildfires and other natural hazards—today, seems like a gut punch while you’re down. Many people can’t separate the emotional from the rational. And if you’re a parent of school-aged children—your emotional response from these experiences is amplified to the point of exasperation… maybe even eruption.

As a community resilience expert, I can tell you why cascading and compounding crises or disasters are so destabilizing. The instinctive cognitive biases most people use when they try to get through difficult times are hiding in plain sight. The most common reaction is trying to find a pattern among all the disasters – to explain what’s going on, to cope, and most importantly, to feel in control.

In truth, there are very few patterns among natural hazards. They happen. They are inevitable, but not predictable as to when they will happen.

5 ways to connect with community to improve your sense of well-being and safety

Here are five practical things you can do right now with other people in your community to take back control of your world. These action steps produce real results for people in times of chaos.

#1: Stay informed and seek corroboration.

Grow community connections and gain authentic information by attending virtual town meetings.Move beyond headlines, tweets, or Facebook posts. Seek out expert information from trustworthy people who are knowledgeable and reliable. Expand your sense of community to include local public agencies, officials, and civic leaders.

For example, when there are rolling blackouts, attend virtual town halls or online public events, so you know when you are likely to be impacted. Regularly check resources that are not being accessed or leveraged, made worse by being in isolation. And talk to the neighbor who is more connected than you are on that issue to validate your insights.

#2: Help someone else with their challenges or concerns.

By offering your time, expertise, or resources, you can help someone else find more calm in the chaos. That helps you focus your own energy and attention away from what is out of control. Find a problem you can solve that will make someone else’s life easier.

For example, if you go to get groceries, call a neighbor or relative and see if you can pick something up for them. Make a commitment to communicate key insights on timely actions, like conservation issues, with key neighbors/friends during extreme heat.

#3: Join a group or volunteer for a cause.

Volunteering can help you connect with your community.Find a community to work with so you can meet new people and feel part of a team working together. A sense of belonging within a larger community offers the support needed to soldier on as well as the chance to feel needed or helpful.

For example, volunteer at a food bank to prepare and pack meal boxes for those in need…on a regular shift. Participate in phone banking or letter writing for an initiative or candidate you support. Get community service into your regular routine.

#4: Meet your neighbors—while wearing a mask.

Whether at your office building that you’re visiting daily now (while 6-plus feet apart) or where you live, meet as many people as you can so you know who the right people are when you need them. Because you will need them. Meeting is the first step—it’s really about building a relationship.

For example, instead of just waving as you go by, stop for a moment, reintroduce yourself, and ask them a sincere but prepared question to make a real connection with the people in your neighborhood or community. If it’s someone you see often but never interact with, then say, “Good to see you. You know, I drive by you so often, and I never stop and actually talk. How are you?” Be deliberate about actually talking to people you pass. No one can see you smile through your mask, so take the opportunity to connect.

#5: Talk to someone you trust about what you’re feeling.

Find the right person who is supportive, whether a relative, friend, or professional. Share your concerns. And when you are in conversation, remember to also share the silver linings.

For example, you can tell a trusted friend that you are feeling unmotivated or even anxious. Ask for what you need like reassurance or wise words to get through the moment. Because most often that’s what you need: a way to get through a series of moments during the chaos. A good friend will remind you of when you have previously overcome challenges or they will point out your traits that help you persevere. This positive reflection of your skills or character is the test of a good friend during your crisis.

Community connections will strengthen you in times of crisis.Bottom line: Without a community the world feels more chaotic and frankly, more lonely.

You can’t achieve your goals or even have the peace of mind to weather a figurative or literal storm. Get ready by getting connected.

John Bwarie is the CEO Of Stratiscope and the cohost of “Getting Through It,” a podcast from the Dr. Lucy Jones Center.

Read more:

COVID-19, Masks, and Our Sense of Belonging 

How to Lead During Compounding and Cascading Crises

Be a Hero and Support Local Nonprofits during the COVID-19 Pandemic