How to Work Through Turbulent Times

There are plenty of skills you can develop that will prepare you for the challenges you face in your career, including technical, problem-solving, and leadership. But there’s no school or webinar that can prepare you to work through tragedy.

Building resiliency skills are critical because, sooner or later, everyone will go through turbulent times. For example, workers in Texas and Florida are trying to return to normal after some of the most destructive hurricanes to hit the United States.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma unleashed devastation that experts estimate could cost nearly $300 billion combined. “The city essentially shut down for a week,” said Don Brewster, managing partner of Legacy Computer Solutions, an IT firm in the Houston area. “Nobody went to work because they couldn’t get to work. Of course, when my customers can’t get to work, they have nothing for me to do.”

In the aftermath of these natural disasters, people have to get back to “business as usual,” if that’s even possible. How can you cope with trauma and still function in your job? Here are some tips to push through the troubling times and build resilience.

Lean on Social Support Systems

Communities recover from tragedies collectively, and people bounce back from setbacks with the support of others. Kevin Nourse, an executive coach who specializes in resilient leadership, knows this well. He studied how some managers thrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Social support is hugely important in the process of coping with setbacks, and that’s a big driver in what determines whether someone is resilient or not,” Nourse said. “Do you have that psychological safety net? What stabilizes us in times of setbacks is having that safety net ready that we can turn to, and that’s the secret sauce of resiliency.”

That safety net can be your co-workers, who are going through the same trials as you. Nourse said that, during Katrina, many people lived at their jobs for days because they were unable to go home. They developed a surrogate family at work that helped them maintain focus and help their organizations recover.

It’s also important to take advantage of any resources that employers provide. FEI, an organization that provides resiliency solutions and employee assistance programs to businesses, has been assisting several companies with counseling services and other resources in the wake of the storms.

“The most important thing is to give people time to tell their story so they can let it out,” said Dan Potterton, COO of FEI. “We encourage companies to create a safe place for employees to talk. That goes a long way toward loyalty and productivity down the line. Companies that think they’re going to get right back to business like it didn’t happen are misguided.”

Be Self-Aware

You shouldn’t try to ignore the emotions involved with the trauma by just putting your head down and working through it. Everyone deals with stress, whether they’ve experienced personal loss or not. Potterton suggests that stress and emotional reactions are “a normal response to an abnormal event.”

Signs of stress from trauma include irritability, sleeplessness, feeling sad, or random crying. Part of building resilience is recognizing these signs and knowing when to ease up at the office.

“Resilient people know themselves and have that sense of awareness,” Nourse said. “Without self-knowledge, we just kind of plunder ahead and everyone sees we’re falling apart but we don’t see it ourselves.”

Monitor Your Physical Health

Worrying about diet and exercise is usually the last thing people think about when they have to clean a flooded home while going through a flooded inbox at work. But physical resilience is a key component of psychological resilience. If you’re not taking care of your body, your focus will be off at work, and you’ll lack the mental capability to remain optimistic.

When dealing with trauma-related stress, people don’t get enough sleep, and they’re sometimes over-caffeinated. Those things affect your mood, your potential to think, and your ability to lead your team at work or help your family at home.

Focus on Your Strengths

One of the scariest things about going through an event like a hurricane is the loss of control. You can only protect your home to a certain extent. You can only rebuild when you get insurance money. And you often rely on others at home and work just to stay afloat.

During these times, focus on your strengths. “When we go through tough times, we feel incompetent, so anything you can do to go back to your strengths and what you do really well will help you regain a sense of mastery or confidence,” Nourse said.

You should also maintain a sense of optimism, which is essential to resiliency. Instead of bemoaning your situation, think about the lessons you’re learning and the character you’re developing in the midst of crisis.

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