The Lesson I Hope We Learned From COVID
March 2020 to March 2021 has felt like a month and a decade rolled into one, hasn’t it?
So much heartbreak. So much joy. So many hours of Netflix. So many lessons learned.
Which reminds me, have you heard the sweet poem The Great Realisation yet?
It reminds us to ask:
What, if anything, have we gained from this year of COVID?
What, if anything, do we want to bring with us into this next chapter of our lives?
I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I value most this year (family, birdfeeders, libraries, memes, my lungs).
But in terms of our work, one thing I really hope we’ve learned this past year is that resilience is dynamic and contextual.
We typically view resilience as an evaluation of one’s individual efforts and character (if you’re not resilient, then you’re to blame. You should have self-cared harder!).
Of course, our efforts to care for ourselves absolutely matter. But this year made it very, very clear what researchers have known for a long time: our resilience is context dependent.
An individual’s home and work environment, social support, and access to resources impacts their overall resilience.
My hope is that COVID has sped up our understanding of the many organizational, social, cultural, and structural factors that impact individual resilience, so that going forward we’ll place equal importance on self-care efforts AND we-care initiatives.
COVID reminded us there is no clean line between resilience at work and home.
What happens in our personal life impacts our work performance and what happens on the job impacts the quality of our life at home.
COVID also made it abundantly clear that while we may all be in the same storm, we’re in vastly different boats.
When this many people are struggling to keep their heads above water, we can’t keep pushing them (or ourselves) to work harder as if it’s business as usual.
“Suck it up and deal” and “think positive” are cliches, not real strategies. Resilience is more complex than that.
If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to Susan David and Brene Brown’s solid 2-part conversation on toxic positivity, emotions at work, and compassion fatigue.
They remind us that when we force ourselves (or others) to repeatedly repress our emotions and deny our biological needs it never ends well.
When we consistently ignore our body’s needs and we keep our feelings bottled up it creates toxic internal pressure.
Eventually, we implode (mental and physical illness) or explode (outbursts and violence).
So we’re going to need to intentionally make time to attend to our feelings and chronic stress now – and make space for our staff to do the same – or we’ll be forced to deal with the consequences later.
One way that we can begin to help our own bodies rest and repair from this past year (and to cope with the continuing challenges ahead), is by building the skills of awareness and self-regulation.
Yes, those are individual self-care strategies. Because we need those too.
Even if we can’t control what’s happening around us in the world or in our workplaces, we can change how we interact with and perceive these challenges, which can reduce some of the harmful effects of stress.
Self-regulation practices that soothe our nervous system can help us feel safer and steadier in our bodies. This allows us to access our thinking brain so that we can make better choices for ourselves and those around us.
It also gives us the capacity to hold space for the complexity of what it is to be fully human at work and at home.
If COVID has taught us anything it’s that it’s possible to radically change the way we work overnight.
This year, I hope we can apply that kind of radical thinking to worker welfare, whether we’re self-employed or have a staff of 500.
If you’d like to explore these ideas for yourself or your staff, here are some resources:
- I highly recommend the book Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma, by Elizabeth Stanley
- If you want to hit reset right now, give this body-based practice a try.
- If you’d like to try out some self-regulation practices, you can join us in The Compassionate Badassery Lab for a webinar where we’ll look at the window of tolerance, trigger stacking, and how to shift out of chronic stress activation. You can join The Lab as a monthly member or annual member.
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