Crisis as a Psychological Barometer

Article by Gal Stiglitz

Time to read: 9 minutes

The 7 different ways we tend to deal with a crisis and how we can learn from it

COVID-19 has had an impact everywhere, but the response of different people, societies and governments has varied greatly. Some have collapsed under the physical, mental and financial pressure, while others are coping well. 

Men in China protecting themselves from the Corona virus, wearing plastic bags and face masks.

Why is that people and societies respond so differently to the same challenge? Is there anything beyond cultural and socio-economic factors? What can we learn from it?

By observing human behavior, I identified 7 different ways people and societies respond to crises. Each of these reflects a different level of psychological resilience, or if we chose to look deeper, each one is rooted in a different level of awareness, or maturity. In other words, our actions are not only a response to the external, but most importantly come from a subconscious relationship we have with ourselves, others, and life in general. 

Facing Crisis: 7 Levels of Awareness

When we examine crises, we are not just looking at this crisis, but every crisis we experience, whether it is on a global scale like COVID-19, or on a personal level, like losing a loved one. Before I expand on the 7 responses I have identified, it is important not to think about levels of awareness in terms of better, worse, good or bad, but as a mental barometer that helps us to understand how empowered and developed we are, and if the current way of dealing with the situation really works for us. Recognizing our own behavior can be an opportunity to make a new choice and create a deep shift. 

Avoiding and Denying (Level 1)

When our awareness is at the lowest level, we are not capable of comprehending what is actually happening. This is a result of our subconscious trying to protect us because our conscious mind is not ready to process the current reality. We repress or ignore the fact that the crisis is going on and even deny it. We make sure we are distracted by other things and focus on immediate gratification. In this state, some people will express manic or hedonistic behavior, and others will demonstrate apathy. In some other cases, people hold onto extreme conspiracy theories that are rooted deep in their belief system, and there is total mistrust in social institutions and in what the media is broadcasting.

Hopeless and Depressed (Level 2)

At this level of awareness we already notice something is very wrong, and we react internally. We are overwhelmed by the consequences that our mind projects to be the result of this crisis for our lives, and everything that is important to us. We feel doomed. We are depressed and/or experience anxiety attacks. We can experience mental paralysis, paranoia, or panic, and often people swing back and forth between these like a pendulum, experiencing high levels of volatility. We tend to believe everything the media broadcasts with no filter whatsoever. At this level of awareness, we relate to what is happening as fate, and the consequences of it to be fatal.

Blaming and Resentful (Level 3)

At this level of awareness, we react externally to what is happening, we are very defensive and offensive. We are resentful and full of blame about what is going on. We are angry, full of rage and can be violent towards others. All our energy goes into blaming the situation on other people and other factors. We can’t stop gossiping about how ‘others’ are responsible for what is happening. We are reactive and go into conspirative thinking, and we enter into conflict with the people we feel are responsible for the situation.

Guilty and Regretful (Level 4)

At the middle levels of awareness, we start to recognize that we have responsibility for the situation, which is a healthy acknowledgement in itself, but at this level, a lot of energy is consumed by feeling guilty and ashamed about the situation. We experience regret. The things we could have done, and the things we should have done are an emotional backdrop to all of our thoughts. We constantly feel like we are failing. We are very careful with our actions, or take minimal action because we feel almost every action we take could cause more failure and shame, so we opt out and avoid it. Our judgment is biased, tilting towards the people who are affected the most by the crisis, and our charitable behavior is fueled by guilt and shame. Here, we avoid public or media attention, and keep a very low profile.  

Hopeful but Planless (Level 5)

At this level, we fully acknowledge the crisis, we do not dwell in blame, shame or regret. We are hopeful but powerless, and optimistic, often overly optimistic. We experience a stronger sense of community and mutual support. Psychologically, our behavior is rooted in a strong sense of faith. We may become detached from reality and passive. We accept the situation and we don’t feel like there is so much we can do to change or control it. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst. We are hopeful that things will get better, but only take minor or indirect action. 

Planning but Restless (Level 6)

At this higher level, we become more sophisticated, taking responsibility but often overreacting to the situation. If before we accepted the situation, but without doing much about it, here we are coming from a form of resistance – we want to change the situation. In our psychology, or in social behavior this can manifest in a lot of data analysis, planning, and overthinking. We think that the more we analyze the data, the more clarity and control we will have about what’s going on. Of course, it’s very good to be well informed, but when we overdo it, we become attached to control, aka control freaks. We try to control the people around us as much as we can, for example by imposing many restrictions and implementing strict surveillance. At this level of awareness, there is a growing anxiety and feelings of distrust. Here, there might be overconsumption of media. We often exaggerate what is happening and become overactive and suspicious of other people’s behavior.

Helpful and Resourceful (Level 7)

At the highest level of awareness in dealing with crises, we are helpful and resourceful. We find new meaning in the situation, we know it is happening for a reason, we know it is an opportunity to develop and grow our awareness as individuals or as a society. We take responsibility for our own life, our family, our community, our country, and the world. We take on commitments, we are collaborative and service-oriented. Whereas at Level 6, we plan for the worst and hope for the best, here we have faith and trust that when we do our very best, life will do the rest. We fully embrace the situation because we come from a place of certainty that this is not coming at us, but coming for us. At this level, following the media will be filtered through the lens of mature critical thinking and will not result in mood swings. 


You might recognize yourself, other people and societies in one or more of the levels of awareness. First of all, it is important to acknowledge that how we respond to a situation doesn’t mean we will always respond this way. Even if you have demonstrated being helpful and resourceful, it is not guaranteed that it will be the case the next time a crisis hits. Developing your awareness takes constant time and energy, and usually, our behavior in a crisis is the consequence of the work we did on our development prior to the crisis – our behavior is always an indicator of our level of awareness. 

Every one of us can relate to each level. Sometimes we can go through all the levels as a response to the very same stimulus. Sometimes we can be in between levels and experience 2 different levels at the same time. The key question is “what level is our foundation?” – we can then elevate this by pro-actively working on ourselves. 

Now you might ask yourself how can I elevate my awareness to being helpful and resourceful? I will elaborate more on this topic in a separate article, but in the meantime, it is important to remember that each one of us has the potential power to raise our awareness and turn any crisis into an opportunity – a good start is to ask yourself “How is this crisis actually helping me?”

Written by Gal Stiglitz, Founder & Creator of iDiscover 360 a school of thought for human development and life design in the modern era.