Resilience through COVID-19 - a message from Sally Kirkright, CEO, AccessEAP
This month I’m writing about managing stress and building resilience. It’s been a stressful summer as the drought led to the worst bushfire season in memory. Then the rains that should have been so soothing caused floods in many areas. And no sooner did we accommodate that development, COVID-19 appeared.
Being resilient is the ability to bounce back after challenges. If you fail your driving test, you can lick your wounds and never get your license – or do more practise and try the test again. However, when one challenge after another appears, it’s harder to catch your breath and keep bouncing back. During this unprecedented time, we all find ourselves in, building resilience and trying to manage our stress levels can seem even more difficult than usual. As a manager or leader, you will be experiencing your own emotions as well as feeling responsible for your people or teams. As leaders, we are used to being in control and providing guidance and support to others, but we are also human. Remember that feeling anxious, fearful, stressed, angry and irritable are common and normal feelings during uncertain times.
Managing stress goes alongside resilience, and this is certainly a stressful time for many people. Stress can emerge in small, sneaky increments. When a challenge arises, you feel a rush as adrenalin hits your system: It increases blood pressure and heart rate as part of our fight-or-flight mechanism. Sometimes our day has so many challenges that we load up on adrenalin before we have the time to work the last dose from our body. When we stay at that elevated level, our body is working above capacity. Short term, that’s OK. If it goes on without reprieve, we get worn out, making it harder for that resilience ‘bounce back’ to arrive.
We feel stress, physically and emotionally. Knowing where your body holds it – tight neck, sinking feeling in your gut, heartburn, a sensation of pounding blood in your hear or chest – allows you to stop and see what’s happening. You or those around you might notice behavioural changes, like being snappy in a conversation that you would not normally worry about, or being abrupt towards someone you care for. Sleep disturbances, needing a drink after work, difficulty concentrating (or obsessing on bushfires, floods or viruses!) all indicate that we are stressed.
Use a STOP technique at a moment like that:
- STOP whatever you are doing
- TAKE a few slow breaths
- OBSERVE what you are thinking and feeling –remembering that thoughts and worries are not facts
- PROCEED. Feeling calmer? Go on with the task. Still tense? Get up and move, make a cup of tea, walk the dog, do the dishes. A five-minute break is really restorative!
Building resilience includes examining previous events or times where you faced something daunting at the time, but you got through it. Remind yourself that you can and will get through this. Building resilience also includes taking care of your mind and body, so exercise and mindfulness are important. Walking, running, yoga or gardening move your body, boosting natural endorphins. And setting time aside with a mindful activity can calm your mind. Being mindful means setting worries aside and enjoying one task in the moment, be it a long hot shower, watching comedy or your morning walk. These boost your serotonin, a mood-lifting brain chemical whose presence can carry you through later stresses. At AccessEAP, we are engaging our minds and bodies through weekly Zoom Yoga sessions throughout our Active April Wellbeing Initiative.
Focus on the people around you, such as family, children, friends and colleagues. Keep in contact and stay connected through technology. The benefit of experiencing positive emotions is that we restore physically and emotionally from stressful events, including a quicker ‘cardiovascular recovery’. Doing a little of each of these each day builds your resilience reservoir!
It feels hard to justify taking a break when the pressure is on – but in reality, a stress short-circuit works in terms of productivity and is crucial for physical health, and our emotional stability, enabling us to lead our people. See here for our newsletter article on Tips for Handling Stress.
Sally Kirkright, CEO AccessEAP
Our Clinical and Organisational Development teams are creating a growing resource bank of tools for you and your people. This includes tools on how to support your people who may find themselves now working remotely due to social distancing requirements. It also includes tools to share with your people on how they can manage their own anxiety, support for parents and support for managing relationships. These resources can be accessed through the Employer and Employee Login Areas of our website.