Specht Consulting & Coaching

Stress and Resilience

For most of us stress is to some extent a normal part of our experience of navigating our everyday lives and our work.  A small amount of stress can energize us and focus our attentionimages.  These times are anything but normal, though, and a common response to our checking in with one another these days often includes “I’m a little anxious and stressed.”

Too much stress for too long is unhealthy and has negative impacts on the wellbeing and performance of individuals and teams.   Because of that it’s helpful to recognize the early indicators that we are feeling stressed so that we can do something to prevent it from getting worse and taking a toll on us and others around us.

Here’s some good news: nearly all of us have some awareness of the early warning signals that stress is beginning to wear on us.  For each of us, these early indicators may be different and we may know them either because we are self-aware or perhaps because others around us have let us know that they notice when we are stressed.

In fact, here’s a little piece of research you can do to help increase your awareness around your own early stress indicators.  Ask one or two people who know and care for you – a loved one, a friend, a colleague – what they notice that tells them we might be stressing out.  More than once my wife has said, “Hey David, you seem a little grumpy.  How are you doing?”  And sure enough, grumpiness it turns out is one of the early signs that I’m stressed.  Others for me include difficulty sleeping, poor choices around what I eat, a racing mind that cycles on things I’m worried about.  Maybe some of these sound familiar.

What are some of the early signals that tell you the you are becoming stressed out?  What do you notice about some of the early stress indicators for those around you?

Like I said, knowing these early indicators is a good thing.  Especially if we begin to make adjustments to take care of ourselves.  And here is some more good news: just as we know what some of the early indicators are that we are stressed, we also know something about how to take care of ourselves.

Try this:

  1. Using pen and paper or the notes app on your phone, write down 3 or 4 things, that if you did them, tend to help you feel healthier and happier – less stressed and more resilient. Take a moment and do that now.
  2. Next mark the one or two of those things that are in your experience most reliably helpful – put a star or check mark in front of them.
  3. And next do this: turn to someone – a coworker, friend or loved one – and complete this sentence: “Here are one or two things that, if I do them, support my sense of well-being and resilience ________________.”  Go ahead, have that conversation and then come back to this post.

I have yet to have this conversation with someone who was unable to identify these things – things that tend to support our sense of well-being – for themselves.  Knowing them turns out to be the easy part.  Actually doing these things, for many of us that’s the more difficult challenge.

Researchers studying stress among physicians have identified two things that help to narrow the gap between knowing what we should be doing for ourselves and actually doing them.  It turns out that they are really simple and make total sense once you know them.  The first is to write them down – which you just did. Writing them down is a way of going on record with ourselves.  It’s like saying, “Yeah, I really do know what I should be doing to support myself.”  And the second is like the first:  tell someone else.  This helps for the very same reason.  It’s another way of putting us on record with ourselves.  So if you didn’t do this second piece, telling someone else, go ahead and do it now.

One last thing.  If you want to make a shift and think it might be helpful to give yourself some additional support, find someone who will help you to be accountable to yourself.  In my work with FEMA, I have a colleague and friend who I asked to be my accountability partner, someone who I can check in with every so often when I’m deployed to let them know how I’m doing with these things.  Give it a try.  It really helps.

This is an especially good time to be disciplined about doing good things for yourself.  Things that help support your sense of well-being.

What are some of the things you’ll be doing to support your own resilience through this time?

Notice and Acknowledge Good Work

While no one brings their A Game to work every day, most of us show up for our jobs ready to work hard and wanting to make a difference.

imagesMost of the time we are running hard trying to deliver or exceed expected results, solve real and pressing problems, all the while scanning the horizon for new incoming challenges.  Even when there is a moment to pause and talk about how things are going, the conversation often gets pulled in the direction of problems that need to be overcome and adjustments we need to make.  In the midst of our catching up and pressing forward, we may wonder if anyone notices the commitment, good energy and effort that we’re bringing to our work.

Here’s the thing, though.  When I talk to leaders I often hear them speak with great awareness and appreciation for the commitment and work of their team.  We’re noticing the good work around us but it is also true that often enough we don’t take time to let folks know that we see and appreciate all that they are doing.

An important part of tending to the morale of the teams we are part of is doing this very thing – noticing and acknowledging the good work of those around us.  It’s always important, and it’s especially important during times of prolonged stress and anxiety.  One of the things that can help us to manage our anxiety and stress is feeling seen and valued by others around us.  The resulting sense of positive connection helps to anchor and steady us in times of uncertainty.

And doing this doesn’t take long.  Try this simple exercise:

  1. Take a blank piece of paper and draw a circle about the size of a quarter in the center of the page.  In that circle write the initials of someone whose contribution you are especially appreciating these days.
  2. Above the circle, jot down two or three specific things that they have done recently that you appreciate.  The more specific the better.
  3. And below the circle, write a sentence about the difference their doing these things made (why you value what they did).

This is a 3 or 4 minute investment that can yield long-term payoff.  It prepares you for a quick conversation (or jotting a short note) of acknowledgement.  Do that now (or after you finish reading this post) before the notion passes.

Real acknowledgement is specific in this way.  Watching those who do this well, it’s clear that they are paying real attention to the efforts and contributions of those around them.  It lets those they observe know that their efforts are seen and valued and reminds them of the difference they’re making.  Even when offered sincerely, our more generic appreciation (“Thanks for your good work today”) falls short of delivering the same sense of positive connection and reinforcement.

Of course this kind of acknowledgement – taking time to notice and communicate our awareness and appreciation – is not solely the work of supervisors and managers.  Ideally this kind of awareness and acknowledgement flows in all directions – at work and at home.

When it comes to supporting the good work and comment of others around us – and helping them to feel seen and connected – noticing their efforts and taking time to acknowledge their contributions goes a long way.

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