Grief and crisis decisions
Kathleen Cleberg and Sharon M. Danes, Extension Specialist and Professor — Family Social Science
Revised March 2010 by Sharon M. Danes.
During a crisis, stressful time, or disaster, the decision-making process can be greatly affected by our emotional responses to loss and grief. During this difficult time, a lot of decisions may have to be made. Be aware of the grief stages and their effect on decision-making. The following is Elizabeth Kübler Ross' model of grief stages, with comments on our ability to make decisions during each stage.
- Stage 1: Shock and denial. It is common for people to avoid making decisions or taking action at this point.
- Stage 2: Anger. Making decisions at this point is difficult because all one's energy gets put into the emotion rather than problem solving.
- Stage 3: Depression and detachment. Because it's hard to make decisions at this stage, consider asking a family member, friend, or professional for help if important decisions need to be made.
- Stage 4: Dialogue and bargaining. People become more willing to explore alternatives after expressing their feelings.
- Stage 5: Acceptance. Decisions are much easier to make because people have found new purpose and meaning as they have begun to accept the loss.
Emotions tend to be strong after a crisis. Know that this is normal. Because emotions run strong during these times, you will have to be aware that you might have to regulate them.
Regulating emotions means maintaining and regaining balance in the face of stress. For example, if anger is just bubbling below the surface and you feel it will explode any moment like lava from a volcano, you may have to take a walk to cool down or express the anger in a safe way. That way, you won't yell at your loved ones when it is not deserved and confuse them.
Remember, if ever it is important to ask for help it is after a disaster or major crisis. That request for help can be in the form of monetary help or sharing your feelings of anger or anxiety with others who will understand.
Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. New York: Macmillian.
After a Natural Disaster: Managing Anger — Change how you see things, say how you feel, and calm down.
Dealing with stress — Online courses and resources for understanding and coping with stress.
Extreme Weather — Extension resources for floods, wind damage, winter impacts, and more.
Adjusting to Suddenly Reduced Income (PDF) — Take into account the financial, emotional, and social aspects of sudden income loss.
Getting through tough times — Fact sheet series on getting help, making financial decisions with less, dealing with stress, talking to children about tough times, and more.