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Crisis: Could YOU Survive A Plane Crash...or Worse?

Posted May 05 2009 6:02pm
This week a plane went down in New York’s Hudson River and miraculously all 155 passengers and crew survived. But could you survive a similar – or worse – crisis? Here’s what you need to know - By Colette Bouchez

When the news of Thursday’s plane crash into New York’s Hudson River hit the airwaves, therewasn’t a New Yorker alive – myself included - who didn’t reflect back to that frightening day in September 2001 and the crisis that changed the world.

But unlike the tragedyof September 11th, this catastrophe had a much less somber ending.

In what is being hailed as the “ Miracle on the Hudson”, miraculously all 155 passenger and crew members not only survived, most walked away from the crash on their own two feet.

While the heroic –and not to mention incredibly skilled – efforts of the pilots are being credited for the “miracle” , experts say the other 153 passengers and crew members also played a role in turning tragedy to triumph. It was, say experts, their clear, cool heads that allowed everyone to get off the plane and escape to safety in record speed.

But what if you were on that plane? Or in any other situation that put you in harm’s way.
Could you survive – and maybe even lead others out of danger?

Experts say that key to getting out alive is the ability to react in the present moment – and not fantasize or catastrophize the situation at hand.

“This does not mean you aren’t aware of the consequences of what is going on, it just means that you don’t have any pre-conceived notions about those consequences,” says Anie Kalayjian, a disaster expert and professor from Fordham University in New York City.

If we can keep ourselves from focusing on what could happen, says Kalayjian, we are better able to focus on what IS happening. And that, she says, can often mean the difference between life and death.

So can the ability to act quickly without second guessing ourselves.

“There is not time to agonize over what is right and wrong - those who function best in a crisis are those who can be comfortable with ambiguity in a heightened sense," says Nick Ladany, PhD, Professor of Counseling Psychology, chairperson, Department of Education and Human Services, Lehigh University, Philadelphia, Pa.

Also at the core of crisis survival: A solid value system and purpose to your life.

“Surviving a crisis is often a matter of strong will and purposeful will - Niche says if you have a why to live you can live with any how – but you must have a purpose because that is what can keep you alive," says Kalayjian.

Is Survival in Your Genes?
While some of these characteristics are clearly inbred into our DNA, experts also say that how we react to a crisis is more often rooted in what we learn as children, watching how our own family members react in a variety of situations, including crisis.

So if your folks were anxiety-ridden and prone to panic even small things went wrong, you might also grow up responding to crisis in a similar way.Moreover, the bigger the crisis, the more exaggerated your response is likely to be.

The good news is you can change that behavior and in the process learn how to save your own life.

"People with all kinds of personalities can develop good skills, strengths, and abilities for coping with disasters, crisis, and emergencies – it takes practice and learning but it can be done," says Al Siebert, PhD, Professor (retired) Portland State University, and , founding director,

Kalayjian agrees: “Dealing with crisis is somewhat of a learned response.”

So where do you begin unlearning the negative behaviors and boning up on your survival skills?

Experts say any type of disaster training can help – even something as simple as taking a first aid course or learning CPR. Indeed, anything that can sharpen motor skills and awareness will give you an added sense of confidence and an edge in the face of a real disaster of any kind.

What can also help: Preparing yourself emotionally for the idea that sometime something might happen that is out of your control.
While you needn’t dwell on doom every time you walk out your front door, Kalayjian says simply accepting the fact that much of life is not within our control means you are far less likely to panic when control must be surrendered.And being able to do that might just save your life.

At the same time Ladany reminds us that when looking to find a leader during a crisis, never confuse confidence with competence.

"There are plenty of people who sound like they know what they are talking about but in reality couldn't think their way out of an unlocked room," he says.

Ultimately, experts say it’s always best to rely on your own common sense and to remain flexible and ready to change course in an instant.

The best advice, says Kalayjian: “Stay in the moment, and believe that you can survive.” And you will survive.

You might also enjoy reading:
Attitude May Affect Breast Cancer Risks
Stress Getting Under Your Skin? Here's What Can Help!

For more tips on surviving life's crisis big and small The Source for Fabulous Women Over 40!

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