Resilience Lift - How A Broken Crayon Can Colour Again
There is a common misconception that a broken crayon can't colour anymore. We, at Savvy Birds, definitely don't believe that to be true. Workplace mental health and stress management is a topic we, as women, tend to avoid as we push on and expect ourselves to just "keep going" - even when we don't feel we can do it anymore. In this first piece of The Glow Report, Our Savvy Birds Co-Founder and Psychologist, Dimity Smith, shines the light on the importance of resilience at work, and the importance of taking care of you to enable you can see things in colour again.
Work has become harder and harder. Resources are getting less and less, demands are higher as costs continue to be cut and the expectation of output is getting more demanding. Sleepless Sunday nights are becoming more frequent and there is an ever-growing sickness in your stomach about the pile up of work, the potential of an impending downsize and restructure or that colleague or boss who has been giving you hell. You're thinking - how do I get through this and feel like "me" again?!
This is not a small or uncommon problem. Research continues to cultivate on the impact of mental stress across all organisations - no matter of size - and the impact it can have on you. Businesses can now lose an employee for 3 or 4 days a month due to mental health issues or stress; 1 in 3 women seem to experience this compared to 1 in 5 men. The focus now isn't necessarily on the commercial loss to a business – but rather it's 3 or 4 days of your life where you are OUT, done, spent and/or exhausted and it shouldn't be happening.
With financial, occupational and interpersonal stressors being an unfortunate, but pretty standard, part of every workplace, it's unlikely to go away anytime soon. So, what can you do to protect yourself and ensure you "bounce back" from these stressful workplace situations.
One school of thought that continues to gain momentum and followers in workplace health fields is the concept of Resilience. But, what exactly is resilience and how does one go about getting it and using it?
So - in a basic analogy form to define resilience, I'll use bad weather as an example. You can't stop a destructive and wild storm from banging, hailing and clanging outside, but you can build the sturdy house to protect you from it. You can also have tools stored in that house that you use to clean up and repair the house after the storm passes. This is what resilience is about - the ability to recover from tough situations and essentially "bounce back". The best part about resilience is that you don't have to be born with it - you can learn and strengthen your neural pathways to become more resilient in your responses to stress.
So what can you do to build resilience and use it as a method to combat stress and manage tough situations at work? Here are 6 key strategies to help you get building up your resilience skills:
Develop Mental Agility – Resilience training encourages a focus on “responding” not necessarily “reacting” to stressful situations as they arise. Work on taking the time to stop, consider and identify the particular emotion you are experiencing in the situation can allow you to cognitively distance yourself from the emotion in your response. Think of why we ask children to stop and “use their words” when they are upset. It allows the child to step back and consider what is going on and control their response. Developing this skill in a stressful workplace situation can reduce the likelihood of the emotional reaction escalating and increase the chance of you being able respond, both in the moment and beyond, without the sting of emotion attached.
Approach The Situation with Curiosity – Rather than focusing on the stress itself, consider WHY the situation is causing you stress. Is it a resources issue, or is it an interpersonal issue? When does it occur and what am I currently doing to manage (or avoid it) it myself? Identifying the core reasons for the stress can allow for a plan to be developed to manage that specifically. It may be that once you identify that specific work stress, it may be easier to compartmentalise the concern and allow for specific management strategies to be implemented.
Practice Compassion - One of the well-known 7 habits of highly effective people is to “seek first to understand, then be understood”, so why not look at the situation with compassion as to the reasons another person may not be working “with you” and causing you stress. Everyone has their own competing demands which impact on their responses, communication and engagement at work. This does not make their behaviour ok, however, the ability to take the perspective and have compassion when the situation is occurring can enable cognitive distance from the situation, therefore, allowing better control on emotional response to the distress.
Identify Your Support Crew – Ensure you have the best #squad around you. This is not a “clique” that you need to back you at work, but this is more the key people who know you, support you and support you managing the stress. This can be family, friends, a pet, a partner or a treating practitioner. Seeking psychological treatment from an early stage can enhance management strategies to ensure you are practicing resilience from the get-go. Exercise is also well known as one of the best treatments for depression and anxiety – and best part, it’s free. If you can’t afford a gym membership, consider walking the dog, or taking a break even in your lunch break to get some fresh air in the park and have a walk to get your mind clear again.
Compartmentalise Where Possible – If workload or resources are your major stress, work on your self-discipline to set aside key times to work on management of that area. If you know you’re anxious on Sunday nights about workload, write a list of actions to complete in a notebook, and close the notebook once you’ve done some simple problem solving for the week. If you feel anxious about your workload on a Monday morning, come in 20 minutes early and set aside clear time in your calendar to guide you through the week and ensure you STICK to it. Some things can definitely step in and ruin the timetable, but if you can stick to it 75% of the time, it’s still better than not sticking to anything the week before. Research has found that our work patterns are similar to circadian rhythms in that we work best in 90-120 minute blocks. So set aside blocks that work in similar chunks. If this is too long, try and set aside 20 minute blocks where you MUST do something. 20 minutes can be a much more achievable task and when you set such an achievable goal, you’ll be surprised how good you feel knowing you succeeded in such a short space of time.
Find the Best Tools for You – There are apps such as the Headspace “Smiling Mind” app, “High Res” resilience support app or even the “Uplifter” Positive Psychology Gratitude Journal that can all help with building skills to manage stress and to care for yourself. You can even get your wearable technology (such as iWatch or FitBit) to track your sleep to ensure you’re getting the right mental break and recharge to approach each emotional situation in your best capacity. If you’re not an app person, grab yourself a great diary with pages to make lists, or simply set aside tasks for yourself in your Outlook Calendar. Find what suits you and what works, and continue building on that.
Be Kind to Yourself – It’s all well and good to say “resilience can fix it all”, but sometimes things will still be painful and life-changing. Well, yes, research shows development of key strategies has power to be learnt at any age and can successfully help you bounce back, but the actual situation where you feel stretched, unhappy and uncomfortable can be awful. Be kind to yourself during this process; “lean in” to the uncomfortable feelings (See Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B for more on this), and don’t be mad at yourself for not being able to escape them. Everyone deals with emotional distress differently and the same goes for recovery and management. Working on caring for yourself through any stressful situation is the most important thing.
The main thing to take away from this? You CAN and you WILL get through it!
Our brains are described as being "plastic" - in that they're continually able to be moulded and developed with repeated exposure to new thoughts and behaviours. When we repeat a new behaviour, it takes effort and energy, however, once practiced and repeated it can become a habit. Think of learning a new route to drop your kids off to a new school site - the first few times can be tricky to remember with the mad morning rush, but after repeating it and trying hard to remember this specific route, it becomes the "new" way to get to school. The same way goes for learning resilience strategies; it might take a few goes, with a few reminders and a few slip ups, but once you've worked on the new thought process it can become second nature.
Have a try, even if you're not experiencing stress, and notice the potential benefits of building your resilience at work with the key strategies listed above.
Remember - you CAN come back to your old self and you CAN get through what you're going through - it might just take some time. Don't be too hard on yourself, be supportive and compassionate of those around you, and get that crayon colouring again!
Dimity Smith is a Workplace Psychologist and Co-Founder of Savvy Birds. With 8 years of working in Occupational Rehabilitation, HR and Corporate Health, Dimity has relished the opportunity at Savvy Birds to talk all things happy workplaces and professional women doing great things. Contact Dimity via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to talk more about workplace psychology.