Business guide to Coronavirus

How to gain back control in a time of crisis

As recent events have shown, in times of crisis even the most sensible and stoic among us can still be prone to panic. In the face of fear and uncertainty, we humans are hardwired to give in to our instinct for self-preservation, often to the detriment of rational thought. We look at the psychological forces that drive us to panic and how you can combat these urges to steer your business in the right direction.

Since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic, we’ve seen some extreme examples of the behavioural pattern of panic in play. Supermarket shelves have been stripped bare of basics and there’s been a wartime-like run on growing your own veggies, despite continued assurance that our food supply is secure. 

Of course, consumers aren’t the only ones who are worried. Whether it’s faltering supply chains, social distancing measures, concerns around employee wellbeing or dwindling cash flow, this crisis has given business owners plenty to panic about, too. 

So what can you do to stop things from spiralling? And what triggers us to panic in the first place? 

Why we default to panic mode 

At its most basic level, panic starts when your brain is overrun by anxiety, usually in response to a perceived threat. Instead of any sensible negotiation taking place, the emotional centre of the brain goes into overdrive. This floods the more rational part of the brain which handles our behavioural responses. And before we know it, we’re making decisions without thinking them through. 

When faced with the scary unknown, humans are particularly susceptible to panic and the impulsive behaviour that often goes with it. Unlike in a known crisis, like a fire or a flood, the uncertainty surrounding an unknown crisis makes it extra hard for us to assess the risk involved and to prepare. Hence, we are more likely to make irrational choices. Panic buying could be a way of taking back some control in a situation where we really don’t have any control at all. 

The whole thing can be made worse by conflicting messages and misinformation in the media, and it’s hard not to catastrophise when faced with a daily barrage of speculation and worst-case scenarios. 

How to get a grip on the situation 

In some circumstances, when you’re about to get hit by a bus, for example, panic can potentially be lifesaving as your instincts kick in. However, when dealing with a longer-term threat, such as a global pandemic, it’s the rational side of your brain that should remain in charge. 

Here are seven tips for staying calm during this crisis and stimulating the right parts of your brain. 

1. Stick to the facts 

Stay informed and seek first-hand information from reliable sources only. Try to limit your exposure to news and social media, which might fuel your anxiety. 

2. Keep things in perspective 

If you tend to fixate on the unknown and worst-case-scenarios, cognitive behavioural therapy might help. It has been shown to improve our intolerance of uncertainty and reduce fear and anxiety. The idea is to recognise and challenge irrational thoughts and replace them with rational ones, helping you make more evidence-based decisions. 

3. Plan ahead 

While it’s not good to dwell on what might happen, it’s necessary to plan and prepare for possible scenarios. In fact, it can even be therapeutic. Consider direct and second-order impacts on your business and identify the actions you could take in response. 

Taking the time now to plan for the short, mid and long term can help your business stay agile as the crisis unfolds. 

4. Show leadership 

It may be tempting to stick your head in the sand, run for the hills or freeze, but remember your team is looking to you for guidance and support. While you may not have all the answers, communication is key. The same goes for your customers. Now is the time to let them know they can rely on your business. 

5. Adapt and survive 

Look for ways you can pivot your business model around this new operating environment. If you’re in the service sector, for instance, video consultations can be a viable alternative to face-to-face. Bricks-and-mortar retailers could consider evolving into e-commerce platforms – if you don’t already have one in place – or home delivery. 

6. Remove inefficiencies 

Given the circumstances, it may be wise to preserve cash, particularly if your business has taken a bit of a hit. Try to identify areas of inefficiency or unnecessary expenditure that may save you cash without affecting future growth. 

7. Prepare for recovery 

Focus on what you can control, including the proactive steps you can take to continue pursuing your mission. This could be, perhaps, collaborating with other businesses to move yours forward. This can help you ensure you’re ready to bounce back when conditions improve. 

You may not know how a crisis will pan out, but there are things you can do to avoid getting sucked into panic mode and to maintain a healthy state of mind. And, if there are times when you’re struggling, remember that you’re not alone in this. 

To learn more about navigating your business through a crisis, visit our free resource centre

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*Based on 958 meters switched between 1 July 2019 to 3 April 2020