As any pilot will tell you, the first rule in a crisis is to keep the plane flying at all costs. It makes sense when you think about it. There’s not much point in thinking about anything else unless you keep the plane in the air, is there?

This is the same knack as keeping a farm going in a crisis, something you have been doing since the first day you started farming. You wouldn’t still be in the business if you hadn’t become an expert in crisis management years ago.

Whether it’s coping with low prices, a cow having difficulty calving or a tractor breaking down during the harvest, the principles of managing any crisis are the same. And now that we are in a crisis, that a few months ago we couldn’t have imagined, the same principle applies; since the simple rule in getting through as a farmer is to keep the farm going.

Coping with the COVID-19 crisis uses the same principles as coping with every other crisis you’ve ever encountered. Utilising the survival skills you have honed over many years (but probably haven’t realised you have) is the key to overcoming this latest threat to rural Ireland. We call these skills “unconscious competency”.

Watch the next time you drive your car without having to think about it or know that the weather is about to change. You don’t know how you do it, you just do it. So, with the risk of being accused of teaching my grandmother how to suck eggs, here are the principles of managing a crisis.

Your effectiveness at managing a crisis will all depend on you:

1 Managing your own stress

When a crisis occurs, our body’s anxiety responses will usually be triggered, keeping us in a state of constant stress. It can be difficult to switch this off, but we can practice skills that at least help to calm it down.

Everyone will tell you not to panic, but how do you not panic? Panic is a physical thing so engage with the physical symptoms. Focus on switching these off by taking slow, deep breaths and looking at the real world that’s in front of your eyes

Like anything else though, skills to switch off anxiety need to be practiced regularly, as your anxiety responses may keep retriggering. However, if you keep practicing, you will get better at it and improve your effectiveness at coping with crises. So be patient with yourself. Some people think anxiety is a sign of weakness, it’s not. We all get anxious.

2 Stopping

The worst thing we can do is to act impulsively when we are anxious. When we are anxious, we can’t think of what the correct actions are. So, take a breather, switch off the smoke alarm in your head first. Only then can you start to figure out how to act your way into “right thinking”.

3 Keeping it in perspective

Would you believe me if I told you that nothing you have ever got anxious about has ever come true? I’m not joking. Anxiety is always about something that hasn’t happened –yet. Because it hasn’t happened, our emotional brain goes into overdrive and traps itself into trying to figure out all the worst possible outcomes which never come true.

Like a locked throttle on your tractor, our minds get into a rapidly increasing spiral, catastrophising everything to the extent that you can’t see the wood from the trees. However, while anxiety keeps focusing on an infinite amount of possibilities, its losing sight of the real threat.

4 Dealing with each threat as it arises

As you see your crisis galloping off, bring yourself back to reality by asking yourself these four stabilising questions:

A What exactly am I anxious about? Try to be as precise as possible. If you try this, you will notice that the more precise you try to get, the vaguer your emotional mind will get with you. So, don’t be surprised if this is as far as you get in trying to identify a problem.

B In the unlikely event you do manage to identify a specific problem that’s worth getting anxious about, ask yourself: Is this problem possible, probable or definite? You will find that it’s the infinite number of possibilities that are freaking you out, not the actual probable or definite problems.

Watch how your mind keeps engaging with all the possible problems and ignoring the probables. But it’s these probables that are the real problem. If you keep engaging with the infinite amount of possibilities, you are ignoring where the real problem is. A nice example of where acting on your anxiety will get you.

C Focusing on the immediate threat in front of you. If you don’t have a solution to hand, then reach out to someone who does have one. You don’t need to know everything; you just need to know someone who does know in this instance. Keep a list of experts in every field to hand that you can call in an emergency.

D The last step is to actually act. This believe it or not will be the easiest step. Like a wave breaking on a beach, it looks huge 100m out to sea, but by the time it reaches the shore, it can hardly wets your toes.

Finally, one thing that I’ve learned over the years, is the power of doing nothing. As we have all found out in our relationships, a closed mouth catches no flies. So, ask yourself, what will happen if I do nothing and let this play out on its own? Before acting, make sure your solution isn’t going to make the problem worse.

If you have a query relating to your mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak and would like to get advice from Enda Murphy, please email it to Confidentiality assured.

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