Dealing emotionally with permanent crises: “Suppression takes more strength than facing the feelings”

dr  Christian Kohlross Interview Dealing with permanent crises
Photo: private

Individual and Couple Therapist Dr. In an interview, Christian Kohlross reveals how new crises are constantly affecting us and that we often do not realize what we are really afraid of. He also gives tips on how to deal with fears and worries properly.

The climate crisis has been with us for decades and is getting worse and worse. In addition, the corona pandemic broke out in 2020 and as soon as the excitement subsided, Russia attacked Ukraine. No wonder, then, that we get the feeling of living in a permanent crisis. But is that really true? And if so, how do we deal with it? We spoke about the topic with Dr. Spoken to Christian Kohlross. He is a cultural scientist and works as an individual and couples therapist in Berlin.

Interview with a psychotherapeutic coach: “We live in a time of numerous crises that virtually supersede one another”

Utopia: At the moment, the crises seem to be increasing – especially compared to the time before the corona crisis. Is that true, or is the impression deceptive?

dr Kohlross: The exception has become the rule. Dan Diner, the former head of the Simon Dubnow Institute in Leipzig, said years ago that this is exactly what distinguishes our time from other times. People now have the impression that they live in a permanent crisis.

That sounds understandable.

And plausible, because we live in a time of numerous crises that are virtually superseding each other. 9/11, for example, Global Warming, the refugee crisis, Corona followed by the war in Ukraine. But there have also been long periods of crisis in the past, for example the 30-year war. As the name suggests, it lasted 30 years and exposed people to an ongoing crisis.

Regardless of whether it is short or long, a crisis always seems to dominate.

Exactly, that also shows quite well that we define the present through crises. And the current crisis is clearly the Ukraine war and everything connected with it.

So all that’s left to do is hope for better times?

Many people assume that once crises are over, there will be no more crises. That seems to me a fundamental misunderstanding.

“People are not afraid of events, they are afraid of the feelings that events evoke.”

What influences how we perceive crises?

That’s not an easy question to answer. In the subjective realm it is perception. More generally, it’s about how we assess the consequences. What are they and how likely are they? Opinions differ here, you could see that quite well with Corona. Some did not consider the virus to be a threat, while others withdrew completely from social life.

In the course of my work, I have also learned that people are not afraid of events, but of the feelings that events evoke. They say they are afraid of lack of gas. But what are they really afraid of? Feelings – so-called “unwanted emotions” – or physical and mental states that overwhelm them or cause displeasure. In the gas crisis, these include, for example, helplessness or simply the fear of having to freeze.

How do global crises affect us? Especially when we experience several in a row?

Crises create frustration. If one has the impression that one cannot convert the associated aggression into action and thereby dissipate it, it is suppressed. And if this happens again and again, it makes us tired, exhausts us and, in extreme cases, can lead to depression. But crises, as can be seen in global crises in particular, have another effect: they release attention and energy.

Do you have an example of how people are activated by crises?

Firefighters, doctors, police officers, even therapists are examples of this. But basically we all, because crises catapult us out of our comfort zone or threaten to catapult us and thereby call up our fight/flight mechanism, i.e. release physical and mental energies.

How would you say are the current crises affecting us as a society?

The two different effects are currently balanced. Some feel frustrated and left behind, but others are activated by the current situation. It seems that crises are a powerful activation system for societies – they keep societies awake.

mask corona pandemic crisis permanent crisis
The corona pandemic was just one of several crises that we have had to deal with lately – and still have to deal with. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain – Pixabay/ neolie)

Life in permanent crisis: How we deal with worries and fears

How should we deal with worries or fears that are acutely burdening us?

First, we should communicate them openly, to ourselves and to others. Second, pay attention to the feelings associated with it that we fear. Ideally, one can just sit down and meditate on it. But that doesn’t work with all emotions. When people lose other people, for example, the only thing that helps is the willingness to let emotional pain overwhelm them for a certain period of time.

What should one do in this case?

Such hardships or serious fears should always be addressed and the feelings they trigger given space, i.e. to exchange ideas and sometimes let tears run free. Psychotherapy, but also family and friends can be a space in which to live out these emotions. The main thing is to feel the feelings.

So repression isn’t a good idea?

Denial often takes more strength than facing the feelings. And where unpleasant feelings are unavoidable, it is better, healthier, and in the long run more helpful to experience them than to repress or ward them off. Because the side effects and after-effects of permanent repression and defense are often what brings life to the edge of its livability.

Am I even allowed to worry right now?

Your worries seem small compared to those of people living in an active war zone. If you are aware of this, you may feel guilty when you complain about your own situation. Am I allowed to worry at all?

Life is hard to imagine without concern, for others or for one’s own self. Because the human is defined by the fact that it contains care, as the philosopher Martin Heidegger said. Completely carefree people would also be completely inconsiderate – that is a situation that is not desirable and that we, for example in the case of Russian President Vladimir Putin, even have to fear.

So worries are part of it and you should always take them first – as long as they don’t get too petty. For example, you don’t have to worry about every little faux pas you might step into. Looking at others, for example at people in Ukraine, can sometimes be a helpful means of self-distancing.

Many of us are currently concerned with rising prices, the gas crisis, fear of war. These are more of a nagging fear. Any advice on how best to deal with these?

Through control and community building.

I exercise control over an event that has not yet occurred through planning. For example, I can ask myself the following questions: What do I do if prices keep rising? What resources do I have, which ones can I redistribute and how? Do I have to spend the whole winter in the northern hemisphere? What do I do, how do I get myself and mine to safety if the war in Ukraine continues to escalate?

When I plan all of this not just for myself, but together with others, a community emerges. And if this community acts in solidarity, fear is bound and reduced. The group should not be too large and manageable, as is the case with groups of friends or families.

Why should the group be small and manageable?

As the group becomes crowded, their ability to bind and reduce fear again diminishes. This is also one reason why politicians dealing with the masses find it so difficult to reduce fears.

Can too much worry hurt?

Our public communication is too focused on concerns and problems. Societies function here in a similar way to couple relationships: when it’s all about worry, there’s no utopia. Then one is only focused on the negative and does not get any further.

Does that mean the media or individuals should focus more on the positive?

No, but on what we want to create. Societies also need – not exclusively, but also – visions for the future, otherwise they will collapse.


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