Thrive Despite the Fire

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX

Recently, my husband and I took a vacation in Sonoma, CA. Some of the very same wineries and parks that we enjoyed two weeks ago are right now threatened by the raging wildfires engulfing the northern part of the county. As we were driving around the countryside, we had talked about the terrible fires of the past two years that destroyed the town of Paradise and thousands of acres. It was a terrible loss of people and property. But what struck us most was how the land was regenerating itself so soon after the fire. We walked among giant redwoods that showed the scars and burns of fire and yet still managed to reach the sky. It reminded us that nature is resilient. And so are people.

Resiliency is the ability to develop healthy adaptations to sources of stress or trauma. Research has shown that some people are just naturally born more resilient. Some babies, as early as three month old, react less to novel experiences and startle less when surprised. But research has also shown that resiliency can be taught and strengthened through mental habits and exercises.

Almost everyone experiences stress at work from time to time. According to a Gallup survey conducted in 2018, up to 40% of the respondents reported that they were considering quitting their jobs due to stress and burnout. But while some people experience burnout, others show a remarkable ability to bounce back and even thrive, just like the redwoods.

Keep in mind, that resilience is NOT acquiescing to unreasonable work or personal demands, enduring harassment or bullying, or accepting unfair working conditions or wage practices. Rather, it is being able to robustly, gracefully, and powerfully handle adversities that are a normal part of work – professional setbacks, tough feedback from a boss, rejections, or conflict with co-workers.

What are some ways to increase your resiliency?

  • Learn to recognize signs of stress in your body and take proactive steps to decrease anxiety by deep breathing, exercise, or taking a break.
  • Cultivate strong and healthy workplace social connections.
  • Take control of the things you can control and let go of the things you can’t control.
  • Look at setbacks as experiences to learn from and challenges to grow from.
  • Maintain a healthy work/life balance. Avoid putting all of your emotional “eggs” in one basket.
  • Reflect upon your purpose and the meaning of the work you do. See the good in your work.

Simply put these attitudes are commitment, control, and challenge. As time gets tough, if you hold these attitudes, you’ll believe that it is best to stay involved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than give up, and to try and discover how you can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate” (Maddi & Khoshaba, 2006, Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You )

Anyone can learn to be more resilient through strengths-based coaching (either one-on-one or team coaching), cognitive strategy training, and seminars to build better mental habits, as well as mindfulness training and practice.

Increased resiliency not only helps the individual by being better able to “bounce back” at work and experience lower levels of stress, but a resilient worker is also more productive and focused. A workplace that actively supports resiliency training can expect a better bottom line and lower turnover.