As the global pandemic continues, the after effects of lockdown have been widely reported – concern about the disease’s spread, the challenges of working from home while caring for or even educating children, and decisions about getting the vaccine – all have an impact on our lives.
This has led to significant strain on our mental health and well-being, affecting people’s effectiveness at work and their relationships with colleagues.
How can you, as an employer, build your team’s resilience, to help staff manage their stress and anxiety?
- Ensure your managers understand what resilience is and how they can help guide and develop their teams to develop strategies to cope with the demands of the workplace
- Use anonymous surveys to identify what impact the work environment has on your team, which will allow you to take measures to tackle causes of stress
- Build trust through open and honest communications
- Embrace flexibility and consider hybrid working practices wherever possible
- Provide support services, including mental health support, coaching or even access to medical care
- Promote autonomy and let your teams get on with their work without micromanagement
- When individuals are overwhelmed, help them to redistribute tasks if necessary
- Say thank you – a reward for good work need not be financial; appreciation shows staff that they are valued
- Resilience is a skill which can be developed so include this as part of the wider CPD programme. Train staff to recognise that it ebbs and flows and isn’t simply something you do – or don’t – possess.
Our colleague, Alan Robinson, from Vet Dynamics shares his thoughts:
Anxiety is a body and brain problem – it is your brain’s reading of your bodily state; heart rate, breathing, blood glucose, everything. Everything your body does is in the service of balancing bodily needs – oxygen, glucose, hormones, blood supply – to address predicted future needs. To do this, it adopts one of three modes built into your autonomic nervous system.
The first, the ventral vagal para-sympathetic system, is there to regulate all your bodily systems optimally – the so-called ‘rest and digest’ or ‘feed and breed’ mode. This fills you with feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin so you feel and perform at your optimum, the non-anxious state we should return to at rest.
When we need to perform at a higher level, our second mode – the sympathetic nervous system, the so-called ‘fight-flight-freeze’ mode – pumps out cortisol and adrenaline to enhance action and focus to respond to challenges and threats effectively – the evolutionary tiger in the bushes. Once the threat is gone, we should revert to the first mode to recover and move on.
If we have to stay in this second mode for too long – stress – we spiral into the third mode of the dorsal vagal para-sympathetic system of mental and bodily survival by shutting down the system into depression and burnout.
Maintaining a balance between the first and second mode determines your quality of life – balancing the stuff we need to get done and living a healthy balanced life. This is what keeps us out of psychological lockdown.
Replace the (non-existent) tiger with social media, traffic, politics, Covid-19, money, childcare, climate change, work stress, family drama, and you can quickly see why anxiety is the most common mental illness today, affecting nearly 20% of the population. Modern-day humans are basically a bunch of freaked-out Neanderthals in fight-or-flight mode 24/7.
The best way to counteract this is to reduce the number of stressors in your life, but this takes practice.
Here are eight daily practices to share with your team to help reduce anxiety and improve mood and resilience:
- Sleep: this is non-negotiable. Without 7-8 hours’ sleep, the body cannot function optimally. We often need 8-9 hours in bed to get 7-8 hours’ decent sleep. Read Matthew Walker’s ‘Why we Sleep’
- Nutrition and hydration: drink water and eat less meat, processed foods and sugar. Try 5/2 or 16/8 fasting. 80% of our feel-good Serotonin comes from our gut.
- Exercise: mild daily exercise improves cardiovascular health, mood and cognitive function. You don’t need a gym; try swimming, walking, indoor cycling, on-line classes.
- Focus on something which gives enjoyment: research, gardening, medieval history and so on – it used to be called a hobby!
- Time in: spend some reflective time focused on body sensations – NOT ruminating on thoughts. Try box breathing, mediation apps, Tai Chi, Pilates, yoga.
- Time out: DO NOTHING. Sit and look out of the window, walk in a garden, read a novel, talk to the goldfish. Be in the moment and savour the world as it is.
- Play Time: play some (non-competitive) sport or board-game. Play with the kids, grand-children, dog or partner.
- Connect with others. One of the best anxiety relievers is doing something with others – even complete strangers. Stay connected to family, friends and the natural world.