The psychological buzzword for 2020 must surely be 'resilience'. The conditions of living in a global pandemic are forcing us to adapt to challenging, complex and long-term circumstances, changing how we live, work and play.
Nature vs nurture
Psychology Today defines resilience as ‘The psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties, traumatic events, or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals’.
The idea that resilient people ‘find a way’ to move forwards indicates that this is a conscious and deliberate action and research suggests that resilience is built by attitudes, behaviours and social support that can be adopted and cultivated by anyone.
The challenges of life can be both positive and negative. A strenuous session in the gym usually challenges our body positively – we endure the 'pain' of all those abdominal crunches because we understand it is temporary and will benefit us in the long run. A traumatic event such as physical injury or loss of a loved one is a very different, negative experience.
In my article, Building Resilience for Joyous Living, I explain how our bodies deal with positive and negative stress in the same way; the same biological process occurs. When the body is aware of a stressor, it shifts from our rest state (parasympathetic nervous system) to fight and flight (sympathetic nervous system).
We can build more personal resilience, therefore, by taking action to strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) so it is more effective at shifting us back to our rest state. Techniques include:
Resilience in the workplace
Why is resilience so crucial in the workplace right now? According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 25% of workers say their job is the primary stressor in their lives and, with the onset of global remote working, more of us feel continuously switched on in work mode and observed even in our own homes. And while a certain degree of stress is useful for motivation in the work environment, once the balance tips into excessive negative pressure the effect on productivity is profound.
A study by Global Corporate Challenge found that while 63% of stressed employees reported above-average productivity, this number increases to 87% among employees who say they are not stressed at all. So how can we help employees to build their resilience to manage increasing work demands? Here are some ideas:
Research has shown that mindfulness increases our judgement accuracy and problem-solving skills, helps with our job performance, actually alters the structure of our brain, increasing the grey matter, and helps curb mind wandering. Introducing onsite mindfulness training as part of broader wellbeing at work policy into your organisation is a highly useful tool to promote health and wellbeing at work, decrease stress, improve productivity and build resilience. There are many corporate virtual and in-person meditation programmes available now, including Headspace for Work.
Ground-breaking sleep researcher, Nathaniel Kleitman, discovered that humans run through 90-minute cycles in their sleep and during our day. We move from higher to lower alertness, known at the ultradian rhythm. We are most alert and productive for 90-minute blocks, after which we need downtime for our brain to regain our energy or we start to lose focus. For an optimal performance at work, it is helpful to take regular breaks every 90 to 120 minutes to reset your energy and focus.
Our brains are constantly bombarded with information which often leads to us feeling overwhelmed. Although it is difficult to avoid this information overload, we can compartmentalise the way we process it by consciously creating dedicated times in the day to do specific activities and avoid switching between multiple activities. Become a mono-tasker and focus on completing one work activity at a time.
After a stressful or challenging event at work or a series of low-level stressors, offer team meetings to reflect on the experience, discuss what happened and find out how everyone in the team coped. Consider what action could be taken to improve similar situations in the future and make a safeguarding plan.
Encourage communication within the workforce so employees can voice concerns and ask questions. Employers should be transparent about potential problems and lead by example during times of emergency. When there is an emergency and more support is needed, seek out experts to help. Once the challenge has passed, reflect on the experience as a team and thank everyone for their contribution.
If we understand that resilience is a skill that can be learnt but everyone, integrate this into organisational training and policy and lead by example, we are then more likely to create highly resilient teams for the future.
Thanks to Sara Smyth for sharing this article.
Author: Sara Smyth is a yoga teacher and wellbeing writer. Find out more here https://mamaloveyogalondon.com/
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