In the journey towards mental toughness, it’s important that you learn to shore up your own mind before you take your new skill set to your team. This is especially important during times of high stress and burnout - when your team might be barely holding it together, or your culture is poor.
When your team is suffering, your first instinct is likely to try and fix it, but because the healthcare industry is still struggling to adapt to a new way of doing things, you may feel like you’re getting nowhere with your team.
The things you used to do to align them might not work anymore. Essentially, you are trying to fix the unfixable, which will very easily wear on you and weaken your team further.
It’s important to understand that everyone has experienced the last few years differently. From personal, professional and global changes, much of what we expected from our day-to-day life has been shifted and remains in a state of flux and uncertainty. In the face of this ongoing uncertainty, our brains often register a constant threat response that some people react better to than others.
For most people, stress is seen as a very negative thing, and they need to be encouraged to shift the way they view stress before they can welcome it as a positive influence in their lives. As a leader, recognizing the allostatic load that your team members are experiencing negatively will give you a solid footing to start rebuilding a positive team culture.
When a team member feels threatened, even if the feeling is subconscious, their capacities for relating, revealing, learning and achieving are greatly diminished. Their goals change, often resulting in negative consequences in their thinking and performance.
When they feel safe, understood and supported, however, they’re capable of significantly more learning and innovation, and will likely be open to different perspectives than when they feel threatened.
An Exercise for Rethinking Stress
As a leader, you can shift your team away from feeling threatened towards a feeling of safety by helping them reframe stress and uncertainty by setting up priorities, focusing on what can be controlled and changed, highlighting small improvements and calling attention to the progress that has been made.
Acknowledging your team's effort towards progress helps them feel safe, successful and worthwhile, thereby reducing their threat response and allostatic load. In time, their mindset towards stress will shift, and you will see your team culture improve, despite ongoing uncertainties.
To help you and your team reattribute stress positively, use the Rethinking Stress exercise from Dr. Alia Crum:
- First, acknowledge that you’re stressed.
- Instead of pushing away your stress, recognize that you’re stressed because you actually care about something.
- Make the connection between your stress and what it is you care about.
- Now, use your stress response in service to what you care about.
For example: if you’re feeling stressed because you and your team can’t deliver excellent care, recognize that you’re stressed because excellent care really matters to you.
Instead of feeling disempowered, use the stress you’re feeling to do something about it.
Get your team into a meeting and discuss recent examples of where you delivered good patient care despite the circumstances. Then brainstorm some other small improvements you can make.
Not only will this help you feel better, but it will also empower your team - giving them the chance to share ideas and work towards a common goal or vision.
Next, focus your team on small concrete actions and tangible deliverables. Set your team members to work on specific tasks that create improvement, direct their energy, and put their stress to good, purposeful work.
Download a full, printable version of the Rethinking Stress Exercise and take it to your next team meeting.