One of the trainings I have developed and facilitate regularly is on resiliency. What used to be a topic of interest to some organizations now seems to have nearly universal relevancy. Isolation, risk, and uncertainty all contribute to our stress levels and the challenge of staying mentally focused and healthy during the pandemic. Here is the guidance I have been giving leaders on how you and your team members can nurture your own resiliency.
Connect with others. Oxytocin is one of the hormones we produce when we are under stress. In The Upside of Stress, Dr. Kelly McGonigal explains that oxytocin prompts us to reach out to others to seek support. When we give and receive empathy, by sharing our feelings and concerns with others (and vice versa), we produce more oxytocin. Oxytocin in turn inhibits activity in the amygdala, which is the location of the “fight-or-flight” stress response in our brains. In other words, oxytocin calms us when we are stressed. No wonder we feel better when we share our worries with someone else. Public health guidance to physically distance from others is making it harder to connect. But make the effort to do so – by phone, by video chat, or in person (at a safe distance).
Balance your perspective. We have a “negativity bias.” We have evolved to scan the world for hazards (negative) instead of opportunities (positive) to ensure our survival. This means that “bad” events and feelings have more impact on us than “good” ones. We more readily take in and process “bad” information than “good” information. When we are dealing with ongoing stressful news and events, it is even more challenging to adjust our perspective. But it has been shown that gratitude helps us deal with adversity and improves our well-being. Make a point to identify what you can be grateful for, even in difficult circumstances.
Examine your thinking. One of the takeaways of Arthur Ciaramicoli’s book The Stress Solution is the stress we create for ourselves through the narratives we hold. In leadership literature, this is illustrated by the Ladder of Inference, which shows how our assumptions can lead us to certain conclusions. In the context of resiliency, our stress may be driven or exacerbated by our thoughts. The next time you are feeling worried or upset, identify the thoughts behind your feelings. What assumptions or beliefs triggered your reaction? Are they founded? Are there other conclusions you could draw instead? By bringing awareness to your thought process, you can see if there is room to reframe your thinking (and in doing so, shift your mood).
Take a deep breath. Many of us have heard this advice when we are stressed or upset. There are several studies that demonstrate a cause-and effect connection between breath patterns and our emotions. In one study, when participants were instructed to take shallow, rapid breaths, they started to feel anxious or angry. When they were asked to instead take long, deep breaths, they started to feel calm. Given that it is nearly impossible to talk ourselves out of our feelings, changing your breath is a powerful way to immediately change your emotional state.
While we may not be able to control the pandemic, or other challenges in our lives, we can control how we respond to our circumstances. These evidence-based techniques can help you handle stress, withstand adversity, and make it through difficult times. And that is what defines resiliency.