Crisis Survival

Updated June 9, 2020

DBT (Dialetical Behavior Therapy) principles suggest that there a few basic rules of Crisis Survival:

  1. If there is a problem that can be solved, then we must work to solve the problem. This means doing what is effective for the situation we are in.
  2. If the problem cannot be solved, then we must work to survive the crisis until a solution (or help for the crisis) can be found.
  3. Don’t make the situation worse.

There is, of course, more to crisis survival–including Reality Acceptance. Surviving a crisis requires we develop and implement a variety of skills, such as Distress Tolerance, Self-Soothing (in healthy ways), Finding Meaning, and Improving the Moment.

If you find yourself complaining, feeling helpless, feeling frustrated. Step back for a moment and ask yourself this one question: “What do I need right now…just in this moment?”

If there are many complaints, then its time to sit down and make a list of the problems. Put them in order of priority (most important? most urgent? most impact?). Then go back and follow the rules of Crisis Survival above and get to work solving your problems and coping.

Sometimes we need help developing these skills. Therapy can help. Reading can help. Asking friends and family for help can help. Meditating can help. Sitting quietly can help. Physical exercise can help. Taking a break from the crisis can help (and may be necessary). Eventually, though, we have to get back to problem-solving and surviving.

Resources that you may find helpful

Healthcare Providers & First Responders

UCSF’s Emotional Well-being Webinar Series for Coping during COVID-19

First Responders Mental Health

Suggested Reading to Gain Perspective or Find Meaning

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom, Corrie Ten Boom

Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

Community resources that offer basic needs assistance

Food assistance, utility assistance, rental assistance, etc.

Diaper Assistance

Children & COVID-19

Free Children’s Book: Why We Stay Home

Coloring Book: Cora and the Corona

Resources that offer strategies for coping with COVID-19

California Surgeon General’s Web Page for Managing Stress during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Psychological Impact of Quarantine and How to Reduce It (The Lancet)

UCSD Center for Mindfulness FREE Live Mindfulness Sessions

Controlling Coronavirus Anxiety

Coping with Coronavirus Stress

12 Ways to Effectively Parent During Crisis- Part I

12 Ways to Effectively Parent During Crisis- Part II

Sheltering a Teen In Place without Losing Your Mind

Isolation and Depression: Intertwined and Mutually Reinforcing: How to get out of a negative cycle

Emergency Mental Health Assistance National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Chat
Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.

SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)
Get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. Speak to a live person, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

NAMI HelpLine—1-800-950-6264 or
Trained crises workers are available to offer you support and to provide you information about resources in your community.