Human beings possess an innate primitive survival mechanism to be constantly scanning the environment for what can cause harm. This goes back to the days when early humans were exposed to the constant threat of wild animals and other tribes. When feeling threatened or afraid, the amygdala (in the brain) activates the fight or flight response by releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. In addition, blood is moved out of the forebrain and into the hind brain, increasing focus on the threat and hopeful survival. Over time, this fight or flight response evolved to allow humans to react without thinking and improve chances of survival.
Human beings – because of the size of the forebrain – can turn on the stress response just by thought alone. Listening to the news, the fear of the unknown or worrying about finances triggers the same stress response as if being chased by a sabre tooth tiger.
Speaking at a daily COVID-19 press briefing, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health stated, “Fear is also contagious.”
The problem is that fear only makes a bad situation worse. When experiencing fear, humans disconnect from the executive function in the brain. This causes a loss of access to intuition, the ability to solve problems, to see possibility, to dial down fear and more. On top of that, fear and anxiety suppress the immune system, making people more susceptible to illness and disease. On the other hand, studies clearly show that people who perform better with their health, relationships and businesses in times of stress do things differently than those who don’t.
5 Ways Leaders Can Foster Resilience and Productivity in Their Teams
1. Limit news and social media. Encourage employees to get needed news from credible sources and then turn it off. Constant exposure to dramatized news over time alters people’s perception of reality and the associated fear puts them into sympathetic overdrive or the stress response.
2. Make the unknown known. Whether the news is good or bad, be straight-up with employees about the future of the company and their jobs. Remind staff of the facts, like 80 per cent of people infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or do not even know they are infected and over-all, approximately 97 per cent of people recover. People who are at real risk have underlying medical conditions and a compromised immune system. Remember that knowledge is power; good safe work procedures and training will keep them safe. Develop safe work procedures specific to the work and empower employees with the practices and personal protective equipment required. This will build their confidence and in-turn their optimism and resilience
3. Teach and practice mental hygiene. Help employees understand that internal stress responses are largely controlled by regulating emotions. Positive emotions cause the body to produce “happy hormones” like dopamine and oxytocin which in-turn dial down stress and promote restoration of vital organs and increased immune function. Ideas include:
a. Get out in nature to promote the parasympathetic nervous system (the body’s rest and repair response).
b. Express gratitude: fear and gratitude cannot be felt at the same time.
c. Take the focus off personal challenges by helping others.
d. Practice mindfulness, yoga or meditation.
4. Build resilience through self-care. Humans have more control over their health than they think. Resilience is the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity. It’s like charging an “inner battery.” In addition to mental hygiene some other ways to build resilience are:
a. Get seven to eight hours of rest every night.
b. Cut-out sugar and processed foods. Eating or drinking excessive sugar inhibits immune functions and can last for several hours after consumption.
c. Help others, taking the focus off your own challenges
d. Practice mindfulness/meditation
5. Share good news and look for the positive in everything. Research shows that people need three pieces of good news for every one piece of bad news to stay positive. When in a positive state of mind, people are 31 per cent more intelligent.
Theo Heineman is the president and CEO of 1Life Workplace Safety Solutions and an international speaker and trainer. She is a certified NeuroChangeSolutions consultant, personally trained by leading neuroscientist and New York Times best-selling author, Dr. Joe Dispenza. She is also trained in the science and practice of heart coherence by the Heartmath Institute.
Resources to Support Businesses
• For Free COVID-19 safe work procedures, safety talks, mental hygiene videos and more, download for free at https://1LifeWSS.com/free-resources
• For a free consultation on building resilience and sustaining productivity in times of challenge, contact Theo Heinman at Theo@1LifeWSS.com