By Kathleen Fanning
“When you are hit with life-disrupting events, you will never be the same again. You either cope or you crumble; you become better or bitter; you emerge stronger or weaker.” Al Siebert
This quote by Al Siebert certainly captures the time we are living in. We will definitely never be the same! These words become even more relevant now as Government restrictions are loosening up, more businesses are re-opening and increasingly people are returning to the workplace.
How will we maintain a healthy level of resilience as we face the new challenges of ‘leaving the cocoon’? As an experienced coach and trainer focusing on Resilience, I’ve learned that it is not something we can take for granted. Some people may naturally be predisposed towards some of the elements of resilience such as optimism, but for most of us it is a ‘muscle’ that needs to be stretched and continually built up. Research has shown us that there are many factors involved but I suggest that investing in building your resources in the following four areas: Physical, Emotional, Cognitive and Social Connectedness – will pay dividends moving forward in these challenging times.
Physically, the importance of good nutrition, exercise and sleep cannot be over emphasized. In a recent issue of Psychology Today, Dr Jeff Thompson suggests we need to establish a ‘sleep routine’ which suggests we stop looking at screens at least one hour before bed; avoid alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime and not to ‘clock watch’ if we wake during the night. Becoming anxious about sleep can create a self-fulfilling prophecy! Meditation has also been proven to aid good sleep. We’re living in a sleep deprived world but ideally between seven and nine hours is what we need.
Ironically, while late night exercise is not recommended, my COVID lockdown favourite has become a gentle stroll around 8pm – the night air helps me sleep!
Optimism is vital in building our Emotional Resilience. Recent studies linked optimism with fewer infections, lower blood pressure, improved cardiac health, and even longevity. While our brain has a natural bias towards negativity and caution here are tips from the Resilience Institute to help cultivate realistic optimism:
1. Watch the content of your thoughts. Notice the words you choose to make sense of a situation. For example: “This always happens to me”.
2. Explore different ways to express the situation. For example: “What could I do differently”. Notice the shift from blame to responsibility.
3. Be alert for positive news. Some suggest that we aim to express at least three positive observations for every complaint.
Managing our self talk is also essential in building our cognitive resilience. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t have a critic living in their head but for some of my clients this critic has been given a long-term contract! Is it helpful? No! But is there a scientific basis for how positive self-talk can benefit us? In the May 2020 issue of Positive Psychology, Elaine Mead states: “In terms of how impactful positive self-talk can be, the research unanimously agrees it’s quite a lot. From sports professionals to losing weight, to combatting depression: changing the way you talk to yourself can have a proactive roll-on effect in behavior changes.”
Finally, feeling socially connected also contributes significantly to our resilience, as does finding meaning and purpose in life. Many remote workers missed the collegiality of the office and learned to be creative in replicating the ‘water cooler’ moments. The quality of working relationships – remote or face-to-face has a bearing on our level of resilience - positively or negatively and may be worth improving going forward.
Research into PTSD in the military has found that what is termed ‘bending not breaking’ has been present in those whose traumatic experience did not lead to mental health disorders. Some trauma survivors speak of growth and maturity following the trauma. Interestingly, spirituality has been cited as a core component in what is termed post-traumatic growth. (US Dept of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD)
Addressing these four areas will make a significant contribution to your well of resilience. Whether your ‘new normal’ involves a return to the office, continuing to work from home – or a blend of both, it’s important that you make self care and resilience a priority. As Carol Pemberton says: "Resilience does not protect us from setbacks, but it ensures we are able to manage our way through it."
Kathleen Fanning is an Accredited Coach with the International Coaching Federation and has been a trainer and educator for many years. Her virtual workshop 'Building Resilience When You Need it the Most!' is offered regularly and is delivered on an in-house basis.
If you are interested in learning more about resilience, check out Kathleen's coaching and training options at www.invest-in-yourself.ie or email: firstname.lastname@example.org