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Staying resilient in uncertain times

Business Man Stretching

Being mindful about taking care of yourself – mind, body and emotions – can build resilience, writes Mike Christian, Sarah Graham Kenan Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior.

In this time of enormous uncertainty, we’re at risk for stress and anxiety, poor performance and making riskier decisions.

The good news: We have an emerging understanding of human resilience. Here five ways to maintain resilience by taking care of your mind, your body and your emotions.

  1. Take care of your mind. Think about what you can control and what you can’t. Make a list if it helps. Be intentional about focusing on what you can control: Limit your exposure, stay home, wash your hands, call family members if you need to connect. Do the best that you can in your own sphere of influence.Don’t overly focus on the million factors spinning around you over which you have no control. We’re tempted to consume the news 24-7 right now, but I would assert that staying glued to the iPad, computer or TV is doing more harm than good. As individuals, we have no control over what’s happening on a global or population scale, so the result is anxiety and stress. Of course, it’s important to stay informed about the situation, but check the news on a schedule that works for you.
  2. Take care of your body. Getting a good night’s sleep has a lot of benefits. You will keep up your energy and make good personal choices, such as eating healthy, keeping alcohol consumption low and maintaining a fitness routine. This all starts with good sleep. Sleep has immunological benefits, which is important in a time like this. But our studies also indicate that it’s associated with self-control. When you get enough sleep, you have more ability to override your short-term temptations to make choices that benefit you in the long term. When we get a good night’s sleep, the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that’s responsible for executive control and the regulation of our emotions, our thoughts and our actions – is more effective. So, by sleeping intentionally, we lay the foundation for keeping ourselves healthy and our energy up.
  3. Take care of your emotions. Actively seek social support – and actively give it to others who need it. People have a basic need for connection. As you hunker down, you’re essentially isolating yourself. Call your parents, your kids, your friends and your loved ones – every day. And keep a sense of social connection alive to keep feelings of isolation at bay.
  4. Take care of others. We have a moral and a social responsibility to stay physically apart from other people. Some people, particularly younger people, aren’t worried and are not appropriately social distancing because they might not be at high risk themselves. We need to ensure that we not only take care of ourselves, but also think about the health of others as a moral imperative. The best that we can do is keep distance from others by staying out of public. I see this as a moral social responsibility.
  5. Give yourself and your employees a break. If you feel sick, focus on getting healthy. You’re not going to function at your best anyway. We have to contend with the notion that many people might have to work while feeling sick. And although the majority of COVID-19 cases don’t require hospitalization, they do result in symptoms that require management.The easiest way to think about the effects of working while sick are that when we’re sick, our energy is less available to us. Our studies show that pain and sickness demand attention. And that means people who are working sick aren’t as focused or engaged in their tasks – and the cognitive resources we usually have free are being used up as we think about how we’re not feeling well.For that reason, we find that employees are less likely to engage in extra role behaviors such as helping others or going above and beyond their personal responsibilities. Employees who feel sick just focus on just getting by. Leaders and managers need to adapt their expectations to the realities of the situation. Deadlines that can be moved should be moved to the extent possible. Managers can help employees prioritize what are the most important tasks and goals right now and what can they can table for a little while.

So, as we hunker down, let’s take care of our personal energies: our minds, our bodies and our emotions. We can take care of others by staying home. And we can give our employees the ability to control what they can.