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Trust in a time of crisis

08 Apr 2020 | Chris Skellett


Trust. It's such a small, familiar word - but in times of tension or crisis it suddenly becomes a hugely significant issue.

Trust is like oxygen; barely noticed when it's not needed, but desperately valued when it is. Collectively, we do not understand trust very well. We rely on gut feelings and intuition.

But now more than ever, as we face this global crisis, we need to be able to manage trust more effectively than perhaps we ever have before.


The current global pandemic requires us to trust across three domains. We have to trust government agencies and health services to put good strategies in place for us. We also have to trust each other to behave responsibly. And finally, we have to trust ourselves to manage risk and keep ourselves safe in very ambiguous circumstances.

Managing trust in ourselves, in each other, and in the world around us becomes a key issue for us all during lockdown. The rest of this article covers each of these in turn.


1. Trust in Self

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Firstly, we need to trust ourselves to manage risk appropriately. This is the core skill that we all need to develop. We must take adequate precautions to protect ourselves.

We all have different set points for trust, for example when deciding whether to install fire alarms or whether to use gloves when gardening. Some of us tend to trust too much, while others don't trust enough. But now, we need to follow a common path together.

We have been given clear guidelines to follow to avoid infection and now is not a time to celebrate our tendencies to bend the rules. This is no time to be an outlier. In terms of hygiene rituals, always err on the side of caution. If in doubt, then always choose safety over taking a chance.

We must also trust ourselves to manage our emotions in these uncertain times. To stay calm, optimistic and self-affirming. We can't control what happens, but we can choose our response. 

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Many people have suddenly lost their jobs, their financial security or businesses that they have built up over years. It is easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed but instead, this is a time to take stock and review. We have the chance to refresh, refocus and be ready to make good use of the opportunities that will inevitably occur as the rebuild begins.

Within our bubble, we must stay true to our core values and be kind, respectful and understanding of the distress of others. This not a time for anger and despair - we risk letting ourselves and our loved ones down if we get caught up in this. Trust yourself to be the very best you can be. Trust yourself to stand tall and make wise and kind choices. Because you can.


2. Trust in Others

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We are now obliged to trust others to behave responsibly; to maintain good hygiene habits and to maintain good boundaries around personal space. We trust them to maintain the integrity of their nominated intimate bubbles.

This is absolutely crucial and is the key strategy that will help us beat this pandemic. We trust service workers to maintain supply chains and essential services, and we trust politicians and leaders to make the best decisions that they can for us. We trust everyone to play their part in moving us towards a successful resolution of this difficult situation.

Trusting others is always the most ambiguous of the three domains. There are so many competing factors that influence another person's behaviour. They may distort the truth or omit to report the breach of a boundary, but as far as possible, we have to trust each other to do the best that we can.

There is always a small element in society who flout the rules for personal gain. They will still secretly drive to the beach, or they will claim for handouts that they don't require. But to assume mistrust in each other is to live in a world of suspicion and fear. Betraying the trust of others is a foolish game. You are simply building a world of suspicion and deceit for yourself.

We are all in this together. So, we must work together to build a social climate of trust. 


3. Trust in the world around us


Usually, we assume that the physical world is benign. We can move through it safely. Occasional misfortune will arise, but generally we can assume trust.  But now, the goalposts have shifted dramatically. The rules have suddenly swung through 180 degrees. We can no longer assume that the physical world is safe. It is potentially life threatening. Our starting point now is to assume that the world is unsafe.

With this in mind we must shift our trust set points from casual indifference to high alert, especially around hygiene. Our previously complacent self-talk needs to be challenged. 

Using this Trust Audit, we can review our self-talk and perhaps re-calibrate our trust attitude to any aspect of the world around us, in particular Covid-19. The Trust Audit allows us to objectively review our self-talk around trust and perhaps to make changes. By adopting realistic appraisals of the risks posed by the world around us, we stay safe.

As well as the physical world, we also find ourselves needing to trust the systemic world around us of government agencies, essential services, supply chains, politicians and the police. Usually we maintain a healthy scepticism about such things, especially the latter two groups, but now is not the time to be suspicious of motives or to look for hidden agendas.

We must assume trust in these organisations to act in our collective best interests, and also to trust the media to report the situation in a balanced, responsible way. This is not a time for scaremongering or to abuse the peoples trust. We should also be reading online news feeds with an appropriate degree of caution, always looking for the trustworthiness of the source.


Trust is reciprocal. It is an assumption of mutual goodwill. When we live in a community that assumes mutual trust, it is a wonderful experience. It is the essence of high performing teams, of exhilarating workplaces, and of loving relationships. Assuming trust also provides us with the platform for a resilient collective response to a community crisis.

We should all notice, celebrate and champion trust during these difficult times. We should look to become Trust Ambassadors, and to take every opportunity to 'trade' mindfully in a world based on trust. Not risking more than we dare, but looking for every opportunity to build and strengthen trust both in others and also in ourselves.

By realistically managing trust in our lives, we will stay connected to solid ground. We will get through this together.


Chris Skellett is a retired Clinical Psychologist and the author of When Trust Goes Missing - A Clinical Guide published in 2019.


COVID-19: Our Response

These are our 3 key principles for responding constructively to the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Listen to the experts

2. Keep calm (but don't carry on)

3. Make wise & kind choices

Keep Calm And Dont Homepage

Please read our full COVID-19 Response for more details.


What does this all mean for AfH courses and events?

We are recommending that public gatherings are postponed for a few months to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

If you are a course or event organiser or attendee, please read more here.

Af H Volunteers

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