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How to Increase Resilience During Challenging Times

Beth Payne knows a thing or two about resiliency. As a former Foreign Service Officer, she traveled from Senegal, to Rwanda, to Israel and Kuwait.

But Payne left Baghdad, Iraq, a different person.

“Early one October morning, a rocket slammed into my hotel room and changed my life forever,” she said.

Her experience and resulting trauma left her weak and troubled. Payne suffered from low resiliency with sleeplessness, anxiety, and a different temperament.

Payne vowed to use her experience as a learning tool that could help others — especially government employees.

In her recent presentation at GovLoop’s2019 NextGen Government Training Summit, Payne, now a coach and trainer on resiliency, emphasized the fact that these are uncertain times for many government employees, contractors and interns. Government policies are unclear or changing dramatically. Some federal agencies still have a hiring freeze, making it harder to get the job done in understaffed offices and overseas posts. Many agencies face potentially severe budget cuts.

So what is one thing that government employees have in their control that they can focus on in these trying times?

According to Payne, the key is developing one’s resiliency.

Resilience, said Payne, is “the capacity to adapt successfully in the presence of risk and adversity and to bounce back, or forward, from setbacks, trauma and high stress.”

The more resilient we are, the easier it is to be flexible and adaptable in times of uncertainty and stress. We are more likely to collaborate with others to find innovative solutions to the problems uncertainty brings to the workplace.

This is why it is critically important to focus on building or maintaining high resilience during these uncertain times. Here are some tips on how you can enhance your resilience during this challenging period.

  • Take care of yourself: Daily physical activity, healthy eating, sufficient sleep, and taking time to recover are essential for both short term and long term resilience. We often overlook the need to recover – which can be as simple as taking a walk in a park, meditating, or working on a jigsaw puzzle. If you have long work days and overwhelming workloads, build in short breaks and vacation days that allow time to recover from periods of high intensity work. Study your daily and weekly routines and schedule the time you need to focus on each of these four components.
  • Active Problem Solving: Your level of resilience directly correlates to your ability to maintain a sense of control, even over the smallest things. Spend time and mental energy on issues you can control and influence, while letting go of things that are outside of your control. Establish goals for yourself and work toward these goals with intention. Set clear boundaries, communicate them to colleagues, friends, and family, and then use your boundaries to say “no” to requests and work that would otherwise overwhelm you. Ask “why” five times to get to the root of a problem. Ask for help when you need it.
  • Maintain a positive outlook: Maintaining a positive outlook is essential to personal resilience. Consciously focus on what is going well in your life and, as necessary, positively re-frame the parts that aren’t going so well. Positive re-framing might require you to zoom your perspective in or out, or look at an issue from a different angle. Spend time every day thinking about what you are grateful for and then express that gratefulness to colleague, friends, and family. Laugh often.
  • Meaning and Purpose: Research indicates that a person’s sense of meaning and purpose directly links to their personal resilience. Find ways to routinely insert meaning and purpose into your life. For some, meaning and purpose comes from religion or family, while others engage in service projects, volunteer work, or hobbies. Be passionate about something. Be helpful to others.
  • Social Support: In person social interactions and meaningful relationships are essential to your well-being and personal resilience. The depth of individual relationships outweighs the number of connections one has. Nurture your friendships and family relationships and build support among your work colleagues. For my fellow introverts, resist the temptation when feeling down to isolate yourself and instead spend time with a close friend who won’t drain you of energy.

Intentionally enhancing these aspects of your life will increase your resilience and in turn bolster your capacity to handle challenges in times of adversity.

What do you do to stay resilient? Post your ideas in the comments.

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