Building resilience in turbulent times

The longer the Corona crisis is keeping our world in lock-down, the more it affects the human psyche. People working from home report high levels of stress due to isolation, intense screen hours, or the challenge of managing their work and the family at the same time. Contradicting media and negative economic prognosis only increase that already elevated level of stress.

Dealing with these factors consciously becomes more important than ever. Mindfulness practices can help to deal with stress and to build resilience. Small exercises during the day can go a long way.

How to train the resilience muscle

Resilience simply means training the psychological muscle for resilience. Our brain is like a muscle. By activating the resilience muscle, we can learn to deal with challenging situations with increasing awareness. A first step to do so, is to understand what happens in our body and our brain when we experience stress.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Negative news or high pressure in our environment triggers something in the human brain. As a consequence, it sends out a “danger” signal to our body, which reacts accordingly. It starts to produce stress hormones like Cortisol and prepares the body for a possible flight, fight, or numbness. While fight or flight signify: “Hey, I will run from danger or face it.” Numbness can be compared to miming being dead in order to be ignored by the attacker.

Evolutionary, those reactions are crucial to ensure survival. Until today, our brain and our mind work together in order to safe us by activating the flight-or-flight mode. Meanwhile, all of our attention is directed towards the perceived danger. All of our awareness is directed towards it. In other words, our cognitive frame for interpreting our environment becomes smaller. The human focus is directed towards survival and the ego. New signals, which do not directly stem from the origin of danger, will not be processed. At the same time, our capacity for compassion decreases.

Acting with compassion and awareness

A short-termed sensation of stress is hence crucial for survival. However, the longer we experience stress, the more it affects our health, our critical thinking, our relationships, and our capability to conceive creative solutions for problems.

It is therefore important to set boundaries in personal and professional life and to be adhere to them. That also implies passing on responsibility, if need be.  Jon-Kabat Zinn, Harvard emeritus and founder of the renown program “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) underlines this nicely as he defines mindfulness as being present in the current moment without judgement. According to the current neuroscientific research, mindfulness practices can positively impact compassion and empathy. They also boost our self-worth and our creativity. Building on previous definitions of mindfulness, we at myndway have therefore conceived mindfulness as follows:

Mindfulness is being present with personal actions, targets, and potential. While relying on the connection of the heart and the mind, the alignment of actions, targets, and potential enables people to take on responsibility with courage and to design change. They do so with empathy and awareness and without judgement.

(myndway.com)

Challenges posed by remote work

Home office, remote work and digital collaboration have become our new normal with Covid-19. Despite the fact that many of the workforce have been waiting for this a long time, this new way of work confronted us with new challenges: Communication suddenly shifted to the virtual space.

A study of Microsoft Canada (2015) emphasizes that the human attention span decreased from 12 to 8 seconds between the years 2000 and 2015. They attribute the cause for this to an increased usage of technical devices like smartphones. This study has been criticized repeatedly. However, reflecting on the past weeks, your personal self-check can probably confirm that your attention decreases when you try to follow the media on Corona while you try to work, to answer Slack messages, and to follow a video-conference at the same time.

In other words, high numbers of disruptions like pop-up`s on screens, notifications, and pings decrease our capability to focus. Psychological stress increases. This effect only increases while working from home with various technological devices simultaneously.

The Journey Phone GIF by Forever Projects

Mindfulness helps to find calm

Regular mindfulness practices can help to foster inner calm. For a start, we recommend to integrate small practices into daily life:

Exercise 1: Listen with your senses!

When you notice a little pull in your stomach pit, try to focus on your breath. Deeply inhaling and exhaling 3-4 times can foster a sensation of calm and positively boost your focus.

Exercise 2: Body Scan

Even if you have only a minute or two, focus on your body and scan it with your inner eye. Start with your feet and gradually move up to the top of your head. Be aware of what is going on without judgement. Try to relax more and more. This relaxation technique usually affects the prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning and memory.

Exercise 3: Loving kindness at work

We especially recommend this exercise to people working from home:

Are you feeling gratitude for something a colleague has done for you? Great. Imagine this person is sitting in front of you right now. Share your gratitude with them and send them a little smile. Stay connected to this feeling of gratitude as long as you like. Then come back to yourself and tune in. Can you feel the lightness in your heart?

This practice activates the part in your brain which is responsible for compassion (the supramarginal gyrus which is part of the cerebral cortex).

Exercise 4: Attention boosts

Make regular and conscious breaks. If you have 5 minutes between two meetings, use those minutes to focus on something other than your screen, e.g., a tree in the garden or a flower in your house. Indulge in this object fully. Then come back to yourself and just observe, how you feel.

This practice supports your attention and creates space for new ideas.

Exercise 5: The Mindful Calendar Check

Start your day with a mindful calendar check. Before getting lost in emails, go through your calendar and ask yourself: Which meetings are important? Which ones are not? Listen to the first answer and act accordingly. Cancel all the meetings that you deem not important and create space for your focused work.

Resilience – Your chance to grow

Small exercises are a great way to build your resilience muscles. The training of these muscles helps to meet challenges in daily life. It supports focus and concentration and contributes to building great relationships at work and beyond. In addition, those little practices support critical thinking and creativity.  

By providing space to their workforce to explore resilience, leadership and firms will get the chance to meet the current crisis with innovation and fruitful collaboration.If you would like to learn more about strategies for mindfulness at work, drop us an email at info@myndway.com. We are happy to discuss.

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