I was invited to speak at a conference in Toronto last month on the subject of workplace stress and developing resilience. For me, the event felt timely. My stress meter has been tipping to the high end this spring. Lots of pressure: some self-inflicted and some of it, well, less so. Last month I spoke at three conferences, brought on two new clients, oversaw three ongoing communication training programs, organized a team for a Colitis and Crohn’s disease fundraiser, and, oh yeah, hosted a weekend family event for 150 guests, five of whom were bunking down in my home. On top of this, I learned of some significant health issues for several of my nearest and dearest. Stress? Just a bit.
People often think of resilience as something you have or you don’t. But I’m in the camp of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who, in her new book Option B, writes that resilience can be developed: “You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it.”
As a former actor, I built my resilience chops in the trenches of audition rooms. For any actor, dealing with rejection comes with the territory. You can’t always control the factors: being too short/tall, hair that’s too curly/straight, or a nose that’s too big (but never too small!) It could get a gal down. Bouncing back from disappointment was a job requirement.
And now in my work as a communication consultant and coach, I have seen at all levels of business (from the rookie, to the expert, right up to the seasoned leader) how the ability to bounce back, to absorb the challenges of daily life, to learn from them and remain grounded, drives how we show up at work, how we communicate, how we are perceived by others.
So in preparing my talk on coping skills for workplace stress, I wanted to leave my audience with this thought: Building resilience is like developing a new habit. It takes time, repetition, persistence, and lots of practice.
Looking after our physical and mental health is a given. Here are a few ways to shift your response to stress and build your own resilience practice:
Use stress as a connector: Most of us think of stress as being a health hazard. In fact, some research shows that the oxytocin released by stress can lead us to reach out to others, to – in effect – become more social. Caring for others is proven to reduce the physiological impacts of stress. Growing and sustaining our own support networks is crucial to building our resilience.
Build a growth mindset: If we believe our abilities are fixed (I can’t do math… I’m a terrible public speaker…) then we believe that our capacities come in fixed and unchangeable amounts. A growth mindset is one in which we believe that our talents and abilities can be developed through effort and persistence. Fostering this mindset encourages us to build our resilience to disappointments or a sense of failure.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: Growth mindset requires a willingness to risk failing, to be open to feedback, and then keep trying. It means taking good risks by taking a leap: ask for a stretch assignment, get on that committee you’ve been asked to join, create the website for the side-hustle you’ve been pondering. Be visible.
Stress isn’t going away. But in building our resilience, we can keep the stress dial down and bounce back, remaining positive and creating space for joy. It takes practice, but it’s worth the effort. Or as Sheryl Sandberg says: “Joy is a discipline.” And who wouldn’t like a bit more joy?
As always, I love to hear your comments. What has been helping you to be a little bouncier these days?