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Cultivating Resilience in the Workplace

woman stressed at computer

There’s no doubt about it, the workplace can be a stressful and highly pressurised environment at times – especially if you’re a parent, juggling work commitments with a busy home life. Though lots of companies implement policies to increase employee wellness, long hours and looming deadlines mean stress can build. Sheila O’Malley is a Professional Trainer in the area of wellbeing at work. She says cultivating a sense of resilience is key when it comes to enjoying a healthy relationship with the office. It also means you’ll be more able to ‘switch off’ from work and spend quality time with your partner and children.

Resilience & Boundaries

First up, what’s resilience, and how can it be applied to the workplace? For Sheila, it’s “about how we cope through a difficult time. It’s our ability to deeply tune inward and ask, ‘how do I feel?” A big part of it is establishing boundaries, something that’s important if you tend to take on too much work, stay late in the office or answer emails over weekends – all of which interrupt valuable family time.

upset colleague in office

Evaluating Our Self-Worth

“Ultimately though”, says Sheila, “the ability to build resilience comes down to self-worth.” Many of us have internalised negative messages from childhood, and that’s shaped how we approach work. “A parent or teacher may have been overly critical”, Sheila notes. “This might have led you to be passive, a perfectionist, or a ‘carer’, who’s brilliant at looking after others, but terrible at tending to your own needs!” Resilience is about self-compassion, kindness and acceptance.

When it comes to gently cultivating that sense of resilience and building healthy boundaries, Sheila has the following advice:

1. Make Time for You

This may feel impossible (especially for busy parents), but Sheila stresses the importance of ‘me time’. “Block time in the diary just for you. An hour for Pilates with a friend, lunch away from your desk, 15 minutes to listen to Headspace. We’re not productive when we’re stressed.”

couple reading in bed

2. Get Some Sleep

We’re in the midst of a sleep epidemic, says Sheila. “People are chronically sleep-deprived, but don’t realise how important it is for their physical and mental health. There’s research to show a lack of sleep is linked to some cancers, as well as dementia.” Her advice; go to bed an hour earlier than usual, but opt for a book over your phone. “It’s not just about hours, it’s the quality of sleep that matters”, she notes. “So get that blue light out of the room.”

3. Listen to Your Body

Rather than brush aches, pains and mental trials aside, Sheila advises we take heed. “If we keep pushing ourselves the way I see in companies, we’ll find it’s not sustainable. People are out of work depressed, ill, and struggling with back pain.” Stress, she says, is not the enemy, it’s a sign that things aren’t right. “Your body is your greatest friend, and it will send you little messages. Listen to them.”

4. Speak Up

Finally – and crucially – if you’re struggling at work, speak up, whether that’s to your teammates, boss, or (if needs be) senior management or HR. “We’re all going to need help at some stage” says Sheila. “By talking to someone, you get a new perspective, reframe the situation, and come out the other end stronger.” You may even be surprised by the outcome. “What comes up for me at workshops again and again”, says Sheila, “is that when people speak up, they can’t believe that actually, something can be done to help. The reality is, maybe your boss is blissfully unaware that you’re struggling. He or she might be a parent too, and will understand the challenges around finding that work / life balance. “What it boils down to is that nobody else is responsible for your wellbeing. It’s through action that we change our situation.”

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