Ian Guest concludes his short series on dealing with stress with this latest article. Whilst it is aimed at helping deal with the workplace the techniques listed can also help in everyday life. MCDSA would like to thank Ian for taking the time to contribute these articles.
It was Iain Dowie who first coined the phrase bouncebackability in 2004, when he was manager of Crystal Palace. He was using the term to describe his team’s ability to come back from defeat in their previous match, but the word has now entered the English language to describe the ability to recover from any setback.
My work colleague Olivia had bouncebackability. She was in her early 20’s, about 10 years younger than me, and yet I was always amazed at how resilient she was. She worked with vulnerable young people, helping them to get back into work or training. They were challenging clients, living chaotic lifestyles and making poor life decisions. Clients that she’d worked hard for to get a job would walk out after only a few hours and she would have to start from scratch with them to try to get them into something. And yet Olivia was always upbeat, optimistic and positive, even when things weren’t going her way.
One day I told her how much I admired her resolve and asked her what her secret was. She kind of shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said “it’s just the way I am.”
That got me thinking, is resilience something you are born with - you’ve either got it or you haven’t - or is it something that can be developed - like a skill?
Resilience can be thought of as our ability to face adversity, adapt to change and recover from setbacks. People who are resilient may still have to deal with strong or uncomfortable feelings and emotions (such as sadness after a bereavement), but they are able to handle them without becoming overwhelming.
Research into resilience suggests that it is not a trait, genetic or fixed, but instead it is a set of skills, or a process, that can be learned by anybody. In fact, in America, the Penn Resilience Program, which has been used with a wide range of participants, including military personnel, has been shown to:
Increase well-being and optimism
Reduce and prevent depression and anxiety
Result in fewer substance abuse and mental health diagnoses
Improve physical health
So, what are the factors that help to build our resilience?
Social support - Having a good network of support, whether it is friends, family, church groups or support groups, is consistently seen as being a major source of resilience.
Self-esteem & self-confidence - being aware of your own strengths and having belief in your own abilities.
Problem solving skills - having the ability to make decisions, put plans in place and to see them through.
Social skills - such as a communication skills, assertiveness and empathy.
Emotional regulation - the ability to handle your thoughts and emotions appropriately.
So, if you would like to be more resilient, below are 4 tactics that you can start to practice right now that could help you to bounce back from any setback.
Mindfulness is sometimes described as learning to be in the present moment, without judging our thoughts or feelings. Another way of thinking about mindfulness is having more control over your attention. Rather than getting caught up in negative thoughts you can learn to focus your attention on something else; whatever you chose. That might be focusing on the dishes you are washing, walking the dog, playing with your children, the person you are talking to etc.
Mindfulness has been subject to lots of research recently and most of it suggests that it can help with reducing stress and worry and can improve relationships. Mindfulness is also shown to increase focus and more helps us to be more flexible in our thinking.
A really easy technique you can try is called mindfulness breathing, which simply involves spending a few minutes focusing on the rhythm and sensation of your breath. There are lots of mindfulness apps and recordings you can follow. This is a good example on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEfs5TJZ6Nk
Set Aside Worry Time
Telling people to stop worrying is pretty pointless, but a study in 2011 showed that postponing worry to a scheduled 30 minute slot helps people to cope better with workplace stress. The technique, called stimulus control, involves 4 steps:
Recognise when you are worrying
When you realise you are worrying, postpone it and focus on the task at hand
Set aside a time and place to think about those worries
Use the time you’ve set aside to try to solve the problems that worry you
It’s something that women are renown for, and men are supposedly hopeless at, but multi-tasking isn’t helpful in the workplace. Research by the American Psychological Association even suggests that multi-tasking can reduce productivity by up to 40%. Going from task to task, taking a random approach to work, can add what’s called “cognitive load”, or mental effort, adding to the stress in our life.
A much better approach is to allocate dedicated time to do specific tasks during the day, much like you might allocate time to going to the gym or watching a football match. So, for example, check your emails at 9am and 1pm for 30 minutes, but keep your email software switched off the rest of the day. Try to be more regimented in your approach, prioritise your tasks and focus on what is important rather than what is urgent.
Develop Planful Problem Solving Skills
As noted earlier, effective problem solving is one of the key factors to building resilience. Problem solving helps prevent us from feeling overwhelmed by challenges at work. But what does good problem solving look like?
One of the most widely used models for problem solving was developed in America by Arthur and Christine Nezu, and it is so helpful at building resilience that it is now used by US military veterans to help them to adapt to civilian life.
This 7 step model can be applied to any situation and centres around the use of brainstorming to generate ideas. Brainstorming involves coming up with as many ideas as possible - the more ideas you generate the better - but requires you to not judge or evaluate those ideas whilst you are brainstorming. Next time you are faced with a problem at work have a go at following these 7 steps;
Describe your problem - can it be changed? If not learn to accept it
State your goal - what’s the best case scenario for you?
Describe any obstacles to achieving your goal eg time, money, knowledge etc
Brainstorm ideas - think of as many alternative ways you can achieve your goal
Write down the major pros and cons of each idea you came up with
Decide which ideas have the most pros and fewest cons and write an action plan for how you are going to put them in place. Make your action plan SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable and Time related)
Carry out the plan and observe the consequences. Reward yourself for your effort not the outcome.