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How stressed have you felt this last week?  The last few months?  Are you worried about what the next 6 months will bring?  Are you having problems sleeping?

Mental wellbeing has emerged as a significant risk to businesses today.  Higher stress levels due to growing complexity, volatility, uncertainly and ambiguity have led to increased anxiety and depression.  In fact, it is estimated that 17% of the working age population is suffering from symptoms related to mental wellbeing.  A further 17% will be experiencing symptoms such as worry, sleep issues and fatigue*.

Just as an airline emergency advises passengers to put on their oxygen mask first before helping others, there are behaviours and actions we can implement to take care of ourselves through challenges in order to feel stronger and more balanced.  With renewed strength we can then turn to others to better support them and enable improved performance.

Theoretically, neuroscience gives us an understanding of what is happening in our brains and how this is communicated around the body.  Greater insight supports us to make better decisions, to act and respond appropriately.  Becoming more comfortable with the concepts of vulnerability and resilience allows us to open ourselves up to feelings and thoughts that determine our behaviour.  Am I safe with my team?  Will I be ridiculed for the words I am using or the emotions I am feeling?

Ultimately, we aim to have the ability to regulate our emotions and act on them appropriately in whichever context we find ourselves.  As leaders, we role model this behaviour in our teams to strengthen relations, build cohesiveness and enhance wellbeing.

The power of vulnerability

Increased awareness and feedback allows for different perspectives leading us to greater understanding and shifts our perception of a situation.

How does this work?

Understanding the dimensions of vulnerability (physical, economic, social, emotional) and developing effective coping strategies to face our own vulnerability can lead to greater clarity and sense of self-worth.

If we come to terms with the challenges and insecurities that we face and are able to gain an understanding and increased acceptance, we will – with time – become more comfortable and therefore more resilient in all areas of our lives. With that, stress levels will reduce and the sense of being well will be sustained more easily.

Examples to be resilient could be, being comfortable with:

  • Having a robust conversation at work e.g. receiving constructive feedback.
  • Admitting a mistake that we have made.
  • Being honest with ourselves and others when we feel out of our depth and require help.

Building resilience in my team

Everyone is talking about resilience. Now, more than ever. But what does it really mean to be resilient? How does it present in our lives, at work and at home? And most importantly, how do we become more resilient?

How does this work?

Resilience can mean that we feel a greater sense of control, not being overwhelmed as quickly when facing a challenging situation. Or simply getting back up more quickly after a setback. We understand that we are in charge of the decisions we make and that we have a choice when it comes to responding to a situation that is out of our control.

Resilience is like a muscle that we can make stronger by using it. The more we do, the stronger it will become. Resilience is mostly built by facing adversity. By creating strategies of how to deal with adversity we become more skilled in handling difficult situations, hence it makes us more resilient with time.

What this could look like:

  • Creating an environment where it is OK to speak up and admit mistakes or the need for help – building psychological safety e.g. lead by example and encourage others.
  • Pro-actively facing our fears by direct exposure. The more we do something we are uncomfortable with, the easier it will be until we are able to do it without experiencing initial fears and worries e.g. public speaking.

And finally,

3 keys to calming the brain

  1. Notice the physical symptoms I have when I am getting stressed.
    1. Do your hands go clammy?
    2. Does your stomach flutter?
    3. Does your heart rate increase?
    4. Do your cheeks and/or neck go red?
  1. Acknowledge and recognise the feelings and physical signs.

Say: ‘Hey – this is happening.  I’m feeling this and it’s OK’.

  1. Implement strategy – this might be:
    1. Breathing exercise e.g. taking 3 deep breaths
    2. Positive self-talk – something like “I am aware that this is happening and there is a reason for it. It’s OK and I’m moving on”.
    3. Take a short walk for 2 mins to calm down and return with a reset frame of mind.

It is time to build a workplace where the importance of wellbeing is recognised.  Focusing on wellbeing (including mental, physical and emotional) reduces the risks surrounding mental health, builds supportive behaviours and improves overall productivity.  This starts with building strategies around vulnerability and resilience using the learning from our increased knowledge of neuroscience.

*Minding Minds at Work, Deloitte 2019

Katherine Sturley

Katherine Sturley

Katherine is a RTO Consultant at MODAL and facilitates a wide variety of specialist programs.