Rachel McGill has made it her business to explore our reactions to and coping mechanisms for high stress situations
Over 15 years ago, in the 1990s, I began to think about this question and have been exploring it for myself and for those with whom I work ever since. At that time the IRA London Bombings were having a paralysing affect on the organisations and people involved. Ironically some financial institutions had anticipated this by making massive investments in setting up alternative places for their employees to go to and continue working from in the event of such terrorist attacks. Unfortunately they made no such investment to help their employees understand the human impact and what it took to recover from and keep going under such intense pressure and stressI believe there is a direct link between resilience in people and how well organisations survive in demanding situations.
The word resilience comes from the Latin salire (to spring, spring up) and resalire (to spring back), so resilience can be regarded as the capacity to recover or spring back. Here’s the definition used in my line of work to describe resilience in the context of leadership:
“Having confidence in who you are and what you do, so that you create, build and take opportunities; ‘bounce back’, knowing you will find a way through uncertainty, change and even crisis.”
The great news for those of us who are women of a certain age is that, generally speaking, resilience develops over time and our emotional stamina is likely to be higher now than it was in our 20s! We are also more likely to have developed psychological coping skills as well as being able to take advantage of family, social and external support systems in order to deal with stress more effectively.
In the years that I have spent working in this field with leaders across all professional sectors my purpose has been to help people develop their confidence so that they can make sound decisions under pressure. This journey has led me to draw some simple conclusions about what we need to focus on in order to maintain the level of resilience required to meet life’s challenges and opportunities:
1. We need a deep understand of who we are as individuals, not just when things are going well but critically when we’re feeling stressed and are not at our best. Knowing what takes us from pressure (which is motivating and healthy) to stress (which is de-motivating and can make us ill) is all-important. Working out which triggers take you from pressure to stress and what you need to help you rebalance is the starting point for anticipating and responding, rather than reacting and feeling out of control.
2. We need a purpose and goal for ourselves at all stages in our lives no matter what role we are playing at the time. Knowing that what I do is purposeful whilst moving towards a goal or vision helps to set a context for any decisions that need to be made and provides a sense of momentum even when surrounded by uncertainty.
For me the journey towards answering the question ‘How resilient are you?’ still continues, but one thing is for sure: it is the difficulties and challenges that I face that bring me closer to the answer.