In my latest blog, I’ve focused on the responses needed for you to perform effectively and strategically during challenging times or when panic mode kicks in.
In June 2007 I was stuck in the back of a Warrior armoured vehicle (imagine the back half of a tank on the caterpillar tracks), sweltering in the oppressive heat, and chatting to my colleagues as we rolled into the town of Sangin, Afghanistan.
Sudden gunfire, and a loud explosion.
One moment it was friendly chatter, the next chaos. I remember my heart hammering, and my vision narrowed and wobbly. I couldn’t undo my helmet as my fingers just stopped working. And when I did manage to, it fell to the floor and got stuck under my seat. That never happens in the films. At this point, I was in no state to manage myself, let alone my team.
Helmet freed, I got out of the vehicle to go and help rescue the guys in the Warrior behind. Which had been rocketed, and knocked off it tracks. It was here that memory of my training kicked in. I started to breathe and began to think, what do I know about this situation? what do I have to do next?
I made myself get up onto my feet and jumped out the back so we could pull wounded friends into a confined space. It was difficult to keep the back door open, as we were under attack and I kept telling myself to breathe and think.
I began to orientate myself back to the situation and work out where the enemy were positioned. I was able to keep myself out of the firing line, and shout guidance to my colleagues.
Reflecting, it seems evident that the primitive part of my brain kicked in that day and rendered me ineffective for a few moments. The fight, flight and freeze ‘panic’ response floods the body with adrenaline and focuses on the immediate threat in front of us.
In this state of mind, we lose perspective and our decision-making ability becomes extremely poor; especially if others are depending upon what we do in the moment. We can become a liability.
This is the time to draw a deep breath, pay attention to your inner-processes, and put yourself in a position to think. This activates the frontal cortex and our more evolved thought processes kick in, enabling us to function and take responsibility for what is going on around us.
Some reactions to the Coronavirus are clearly reflecting the panic response, panic buying, and knee-jerk business choices. All of which reflect, natural responses to stressful situations.
However, decisions made in panic are almost always regretted, and only when we have drawn a breath, orientated ourselves to the situation, and activated our frontal cortex are we in a position to make sound calls, and even come out of the situation in a better position than before it began.
Mastering the panic response requires us to take the following steps:
- Pay attention to your own mental processes; are you thinking clearly and rationally, or is emotion driving your thought process?
- Stop for a moment, take yourself away from the problem, and draw breath (if you’re old enough to remember; have a Hamlet moment). No action may be better than a panicky response.
- Orientate yourself to the situation. Gather all the information you can, identify your objectives, and act strategically.
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Associate tutor of In Professional Development