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Resilience Matters

Resilience is seen as our ability to cope in long term stressful environments or situations. Our ability to bounce back from disappointment and how we cope with failure. How we balance being positive whilst remaining open to being realistic. How we persevere when situations become very difficult and the going gets tough. Resilience is becoming a critical factor in retention, engagement and the motivation of our people in the workplace. In short, it matters.

Nature or Nurture

Research has shown that how resilient you are can be down to what genes you are born with and can also be determined by your experiences. So, resilience is made up of nature balanced with nurture. Personality is also a balance of nature and nurture and there are certain elements of personality that mean that we may cope better with high levels of sustained stress. These personality preferences are how calm we are likely to be; how emotional we are, our preferences for seeing the positive versus the realistic; how conscientious we are likely to be. (McCrae, 1990). Furnham, Crump and Whelan (1997)

The impact of our personality preferences on how we are likely to react to stress can be a predictor of how we are likely to cope and therefore our resilience. However, if we proactively manage our stress levels by creating good coping strategies and making them habits that we follow regularly we are likely to cope just as well if not better than those who are naturally resilient.  So inherent “born with” resilience does exist, some cope better, however, resilience can also be developed and boosted by ingraining good habits that we follow regularly.

The Neuroscience

Our bodies react to stress by releasing neuro chemicals that can upset the ideal balance. The amygdala is the part of our brain that is responsible for how we react emotionally, and it works in conjunction with our prefrontal cortex that is the rational/thinking part of our brain. The heart versus the head. When we are under periods of sustained stress our amygdala grows in size and our prefrontal cortex shrinks.

Stress triggers the fight or flight response and results in the release of adrenalin, cortisol and testosterone which helps our body to deal with the perceived danger. Continued raised levels of these neurotransmitters results in negative impacts on our mind and body in the long term. The opposite side of the coin is our parasympathetic nervous system that calms us down and restores the balance of these neuro chemicals to normal levels. Boosting the parasympathetic nervous system helps to release other neuro transmitters. Dopamine is released when we have completed a task or achieved something; serotonin is released while exercising, meditating, cold water swimming and eating dark chocolate and bananas; oxytocin is the “love hormone” along with endorphins which are also released when doing exercise and make us feel happy. Helping our bodies to balance these neurotransmitters helps boost our resilience and our ability to cope with high stress. Other neurotransmitters that also help with resilience are melatonin, the sleep hormone, and acetyl choline which helps us to have a balanced perspective. Hot baths and a diet rich in seeds, eggs and fish and broccoli can help boost levels of this neurotransmitter. Proactively doing things to boost our parasympathetic nervous system and the release of the positive neurotransmitters can make us more resilient.


Resilience Boosting Strategies

Knowing more about the link between our brain and the impact of different neurotransmitters can help us to understand background to our stress response, when it can impact us negatively and how we can adopt different resilience boosting strategies ahead of time. Ideally these are interventions that we incorporate into our daily routine before busy periods, or stressful situations.

Some of the most popular resilience boosting techniques are practicing mindfulness or meditation that raise the levels of melatonin and also helps to lower cortisol levels.  There are many Apps out there that are readily available.

Another is regular exercise as this boosts the levels of our natural endorphins and serotonin, the feel good chemical. This can range from walking the dog through to training for an ironman. It is not surprising that many high achieving leaders/executives make time in their busy schedules to fit in training sessions and aim to compete in extreme events. It helps them to cope with the highly stressful elements of their daily jobs.

Talking to others about issues, problems and crises is fundamental to helping people to manage and cope. Making time to eat well and reviewing our diet to include resilience boosting ingredients helps us to be better prepared for stress. Being 100% present with your family or friends and removing work distractions by putting away or switching off your mobile phone can also help. Doing one thing at a time, setting small goals and celebrating when you achieve them, being positive about what you do and talking about it or writing it down can also boost dopamine levels and your resilience.

Team Resilience

In the work place high performing teams are teams that cope well with pressure, stress, disappointment and failure. These teams have a strong positive mindset and they have a culture of psychological safety.  This culture is often set by the leader and reinforced and embedded by team members as they take ownership of boosting their own resilience along with other behaviors that enhance how the team members interact with each other.

Leaders of resilient teams are good role models for leading a good work life balance and promoting this to the team, this may appear a very obvious thing to do, however, many leaders don’t follow their own advice. This includes taking all their annual leave, not working long hours and weekends, or at least not answering emails when on holiday or at weekends and sending emails only in working hours.  

Leaders of resilient teams encourage positivity in the team. They recognise good performance; they celebrate success and achievements regularly; high performing teams talk about what they are good at a lot more than what they need to improve. Making time on weekly team calls to recognise and talk about what has been achieved starts to embed a positive culture in the team.

Leaders deal promptly with issues and are open to ideas and suggestions and talk about these openly with the team. When the team is threatened, they bring the team together and make time for the interaction. They talk about the threat and communicate what they know and also what they don’t know.  Teams that go through difficult times together and not only survive but they go onto thrive. The team has an emotional bond that holds them together. All these elements help to reduce team stress and so build a resilient team able to cope and to bounce back. In short, high performing teams are resilient teams.

We can help 

Building resilience has many facets and understanding yourself, your team and your organisations ability to perform under sustained periods of stress and change can be confusing. At GFB we are experts in people measurement. We help organisations to recruit and develop high performing people and teams using an objective approach. If you would like to know more about how we can help you to identify and develop resilient people and teams please get in touch.

Call us on +44 (0) 333 090 2580 or send us a message

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