Dealing with the ambiguity of COVID-19 – National Hog Farmer

Posted: May 29, 2020 at 5:47 pm


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As COVID-19 continues to impact our personal and professional lives in ways thought unimaginable just a few months ago, we find ourselves filled with uncertainty and forced to confront a level of ambiguity most of us aren't comfortable dealing with. We don't know how long hog slaughter will be below the capacity needed to prevent market hog euthanasia.

In states that aren't opening up, we don't know when we'll be able to start getting back to normal. In states that are opening up, we don't know how severe the consequences of more travel, personal contact and increased disease transmission will be. The uncertainty leads to ambiguity, the ambiguity leads to anxiety and if we're not careful the anxiety will cause emotional and often short-sighted decision making. Fortunately, there are tried and true steps you can take to calm anxiety and reduce stress while accepting that ambiguity will be a part of our life for the foreseeable future.

As has often been the case with COVID-19, we as pig producers and veterinarians see analogies with managing the COVID-19 disease outbreak based on our understanding of disease management in our pig herds. We have long known about the importance of hygiene and sanitation; we live it every day at our farms. We understand strategies like isolation of high-risk individuals and have employed these practices for years. We certainly wish we could see our human population quickly implement our lessons learned in population testing strategies including less invasive sampling (Oral fluid samples for COVID-19 sampling!) and the obvious benefits of pooling samples to stretch still limited COVID-19 test kits.

Perhaps most importantly, we know the negative effects of the ambiguity that comes with a disease outbreak that can overwhelm our caretaker teams without appropriate coaching and coping strategies. While we think about it relative to a porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome or porcine epidemic diarrhea outbreak at a sow farm, the same approach should be applied now for COVID-19.

I've heard my good friend Fred Kuhr say it many times, "PRRS-itis" is way worse than PRRS itself. We have to keep a positive mental attitude and take incremental improvement steps whenever the opportunity presents itself. Goals, targets and standards need to be adjusted to reflect the reality of our situation we can't expect our industry to perform anywhere near normal levels while we find our supply chain bottleneck distressed and unable to accommodate the supply of market hogs we need to harvest.

So how do we deal with the effects of increased ambiguity and its associated stress and anxiety? First, we need to take a self-assessment to gauge how well you naturally handle these challenges. Ask yourself the following questions.

If you answered mostly "Yes" to the questions under Person A then you're probably pretty skilled in dealing with ambiguity. That's not to say you love it or that you see ambiguity as a good thing, you're just naturally more comfortable being in ambiguous situations than most other people. The coping strategies employed by all to deal with ambiguity will come more natural to you and as such you're in a great position to help others employ these tactics.

If you answered mostly "Yes" to the questions under Person B then dealing with ambiguity is not something that will come as easily for you. That doesn't mean you're doomed to a life of COVID-19 misery it just means you'll have to be more intentional about using behaviors and strategies that help deal with the uncertainty our current situation brings. You'll need to be specific about understanding the root cause of why you struggle with ambiguity and applying a specific remedy to that root cause. Let's show some examples that may help you.

Root causes and coping strategies

Regardless of how you deal with the personal and professional ambiguity of COVID-19, know that right now it is most important to be flexible and there is less of a premium placed on being right at all costs. If you find yourself struggling with uncertainty and stress, read through these root causes and coping strategies pick the one that best fits your situation and start applying it.

Need a kickstart? Take on a tough project or one you'd normally see as undoable, one where your peers may have even failed. Again, start with small actions and take incremental steps reserve the right to get smarter every day. You'll quickly gain some confidence to help you effectively move forward even in situations where you're not as comfortable making decisions as you'd like to be.

Once you feel comfortable with your own ability to manage ambiguity, shift your efforts toward helping your team. If you're "Person A" in the example above, we need your help now! Friends, family and coworkers who are struggling can be easily identified talk to them about their challenges and offer suggestions of how you might work through similar situations. Know that listening will be critically important, sometimes people just need to vent and blow off steam to clear their mind. Most importantly, just be there for them as to get through the impact of COVID-19 we need each other now more than ever.

I want to leave you with a quote about ambiguity that's near and dear to my heart. Many of you will remember Gilda Radner and her battle with cancer. When addressing the ambiguity that came with her terminal cancer diagnosis she was quoted as saying "Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowledge what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity!"

There is a lifetime worth of lessons in those two sentences. Go forward knowing that while we can't accurately predict the future, we can effectively prepare for it by planning our response to the various possible future events. You aren't alone in facing the same reality upsetting the rest of the world. Within every crisis lies an opportunity for development you and only you have the ability to shape who you are as we emerge from these challenging times. Take one step at a time and most importantly, take care of yourself and your teammates.

Source: Clayton Johnson, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.

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Dealing with the ambiguity of COVID-19 - National Hog Farmer

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