2020 has seen monumental change. The pandemic, while devastating on its own, has also brought upheaval and uncertainty, economic hardship and more screen time than ever before, so it’s no surprise that mental health has been at the forefront of concerns for employers and employees alike. Massive changes to routine, workload and livelihoods have unsettled the vast majority of people in the UK and across the world. 19% of remote workers say that they struggle with loneliness when working remotely. (source – finder.com). The number of people living on their own went up by 16% to 7.7 million between 1997 and 2017, and long and frequent lockdowns has led to a rise in social isolation among young professionals. The charity Anxiety UK have experienced an unprecedented rise in callers since the outbreak of coronavirus, due to the uncertainty and worry experience from people all over the UK who face an uncertain future.
What determines our capability to cope with change? Emotional Resilience is the name given to the ability to cope with stress, bounce back from hardship and deal with uncertainty. Thomas International recently published their guide to bouncing back from a global crisis and is something many people are tapping into. They outline the three key indicators of emotional resilience;
- Perseverance – the ability to work efficiently under pressure, the ability to be proactive and motivated during turbulent periods of time.
- Stress Management – having the best psychological resources to staying resilient under stress.
- Uncertainty – being able to deal with uncertainty and accept ambiguity comfortably.
It is important to note these indicators are not set in stone. Emotional resilience is something that can be built and improved upon by everyone and is something all organisations should consider when it comes to improving staff wellbeing. It is also something we can all personally work on. When you have a good level of self-awareness, are able to rationalise anxious thoughts and understand yourself, you can improve your own performance and response, leading to better coping strategies, allowing to make the most out of a bad situation. Although arguably one of the toughest years for many, tough times are very much inevitable. It’s how to get back up after you’ve been knocked down that’s the key.
Emotional resilience is something we are born with and develop throughout our lives, but there are tools that actively improve your bounce-back ability. In their book “Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges”, Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney detailed some of the top traits resilient people were found to have in common when studied.
Realistic optimism is a common trait in emotionally resilient individuals. They do not remain focused on the negative, tending to disengage rapidly from problems that appear to be unsolvable. They don’t remain focussed on negatives, turning their attention to problems that are solvable.
2) Facing Fears.
Neuroscience says there’s only one real way to deal with fear: you need to face it, head on. This is what the most resilient people do. When we avoid scary things we become more scared. When you face your fears they become less frightening. Several approaches to treating anxiety disorders encourage patients to confront the fear and anxiety head on. Acknowledging the fear and facing it head on, with an attitude that says “I’m scared, but I can learn from this,” or “This is a test that’s going to make me stronger.”
3) Have A Moral Compass
In studies, many resilient individuals possess a keen sense of right and wrong that strengthened them during periods of extreme stress and afterward, as they adjusted to life following trauma. Also altruism – selflessness, concern for the welfare of others, and giving to others with no expectation of benefit to the self – often stood as a pillar of their value system, of their “moral compass.”
4) Get Social Support
A strong network of friends and family are key when life gets hard, and our brains need social support to function optimally. Connection with others releases oxytocin which calms your mind and reduces stress. Oxytocin’s actions in reducing amygdala activation and arousal may help to explain why positive support from others can reduce stress (Heinrichs et al., 2009; Lee et al., 2009).
5) Have Resilient Role Models
A study by Emmy Werner involving the lives of children raised in destitution found that resilient children – those who grew up to be productive, emotionally healthy adults – had at least one person in their lives who supported them and served as a role model.
Although we generally think of role models as providing positive examples to admire and emulate, in some cases a particular person may stand out in the opposite way – embodying traits we emphatically do not want to have. We can think of such a person as a negative role model.
6) Maintain Physical Fitness
The most resilient people had good exercise habits that kept their bodies (as well as their minds) strong. The stress of exercise helps us adapt to the stress we will feel when life challenges us.
7) Keep Your Brain Strong
Resilient people tend to be lifelong learners, continually seeking opportunities to become more mentally fit. Resilient people are very often lifelong learners. They keep growing their mind, learning to learn, and adapting to new information about the world.
8) Be “Cognitively Flexible”
All of us have one way we typically cope with difficulty, but what sets extremely resilient people apart is they use a number of ways to deal with stressful situations. People who are resilient tend to be flexible – flexible in the way they think about challenges and flexible in the way they react emotionally to stress. They are not wedded to a specific style of coping. Instead, they shift from one coping strategy to another depending on the circumstances, such as humour.
As a team, there are ways to build emotional resilience in your organisation. Thomas International suggests creating a team charter, which identifies common challenges which prevent teams from performing to their best of their abilities and setting them up for success. By removing some of that uncertainty, and providing clear goals, people feel more secure and positive about their role.
By learning people’s behaviours, communication styles, speed of learning and emotional resilience, managers are better equipped to build strong teams who will thrive in the post Covid-19 era. Collectively and individually, we are constantly learning and adapting, and the tools we utilise will determine our successes.
“Rebuilding with resilient teams: A guide to bouncing back from a global crisis” www.thomas.co