Life is filled with unexpected surprises: a child who gets sick when you are walking out the door for work, a parent who becomes ill and needs your attention, an unexpected water leak leads to a pricey repair or you find yourself stuck in traffic on your way to an important meeting.

How do you typically deal with the surprises life hands you? How you handle these situations can determine whether the problem is minor or becomes huge and affects the rest of your day, week, month and beyond.

When unexpected things happen and they collide with plans you have made, some people have a tendency to react to the emotions of the moment. Their anxiety goes through the roof, they begin to panic, thinking about being late and all of the things they are supposed to get done. This often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness and, in some cases, even feeling hopeless.



Is there a way to prepare for these situations that will help you remain calm, cool and collected? The key to effectively dealing with the unexpected situations life deals you is to learn how to respond versus react. In order to do that, the first item on the agenda is to have a plan and utilize the resources available to you.

The first key is having a backup plan just in case something goes wrong. This is like having an emergency generator so your life can keep going regardless of the crisis at hand. Be intentional about creating a support network. It doesn't have to be family. It could be teachers, church members, neighbors, the parents of your child's friends, co-workers, etc. These are the people who are willing to assist you when you are in a bind.

The second key is to step back and assess the situation before doing anything. People often move to action before actually assessing the situation to determine all their options. This includes getting the facts. We are much less likely to do something ridiculous when we think before we respond.



Once you have your plans in place, remember to follow your plan when the unexpected happens. Having steps to follow helps to make these situations more manageable.

* Keep your emotions in check. Don't let the situation control you.

* Be prepared. Keep basic medication on hand, have a spare set of keys for your car, take a lesson on how to change a flat tire, give your neighbor keys to your house, etc.

* Don't be afraid to ask for assistance. It is hard to be helpful when people don't know there is a need.

* Ask for a second opinion. Sometimes talking with an objective third party can be helpful.

All kinds of things will pop up in your life that have the potential to wreck your schedule, cause irritation or create stress, but how you handle it can be a game-changer. The next time you are dealt an unexpected surprise, be ready to respond by staying calm, assessing the situation and working your plan. You will probably be amazed at how quickly you can manage the crisis and get on with your day.

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Julie Baumgardner

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at