Work should be beneficial to mental health and overall wellbeing. After all, many of us spend more time with our colleagues than our loved-ones! If you’re in a healthy workplace, chances are you’re also in an organisation that is innovative; and with innovation comes regular change. Change can include new team members, mergers, new computer systems or even moving the business to a new location. Essentially, anything that has the potential to de-stabilise us and our routines.
So, why does change rattle us?
The human brain is hard-wired to avoid uncertainty, risk and danger. This function of the limbic system allows us to anticipate danger and move ourselves out of harm’s way. Great for driving, not so great for being cool with change. This is why many of us freak out when we hear it’s coming. We feel the fear of the unknown, the uncertainty over the process, the idea of surprises and naturally, the anticipation of more work.
Staying calm during times of uncertainty and change is vital. It helps regulate the nervous system and keeps us engaged during the process. Here are five tips for staying grounded during workplace change:
1. Monitor your self-talk
We all talk to ourselves and what we say in these internal conversations can greatly influence the quality of our lives. Positive self-talk energises us, and conversely, negative self-talk drags us down. Choose more helpful, kinder thoughts during times of change, even if there are many unknowns. Instead of “I can’t believe we’re going through this again!”, consider something like “Change is not my favourite thing but I’m sure there’s a good business reason for it”.
2. Increase your communication
If you’re feeling uncertain or confused, take responsibility and talk to someone rather than wallowing in irrational thinking. A five-minute conversation with the right person could be enough to clear up misconceptions. Don’t be combative. Calmly say “I’m feeling overwhelmed/confused/concerned by this change. Can I ask you some questions to help me better understand?”.
3. Up your self-care practices
It’s a sad fact that chronic stress does horrible things to our body, mind and spirit. In times of change it is even more important to schedule time for self-care. This should include nutritious foods, daily exercise and structured relaxation time. If you don’t have a regular mindfulness practice, now is the time to get started. In 2011, Massachusetts Medical School conducted a trial that asked participants to meditate for 27 minutes each day. After one month MRI scans and self-reporting was documented showing an increase in grey matter density in the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and perspective-taking. The participants also reported increased abilities to act with awareness and do so with non-judgement (McGreevey, 2011)
Studies continue to show a strong relationship between the gut and our emotional state. We now know over ninety per cent of serotonin production occurs in the small intestine (Foster & Neufeld, 2013) and what you eat matters. Additionally, one Australian study also showed that playing a team sport three times a week can reduce psychological distress by up to thirty-four per cent (Brumby et al. 2011).
4. Increase activities that build positive emotion
What do you love doing when you’re not working? If you’re finding work a challenge, increase these activities to stay focused on the good in your life. Engage with hobbies where you don’t feel the passage of time. Spend more time with loved-ones and get out in nature. Academic research has shown that increased positive emotion can build physical, intellectual, social and psychological resources. Even better, positive emotions have shown to help up speed up the recovery from illness (Fredrickson et al. 2003).
5. Focus on the positives of your work
Stay present to “the good” during times of change. Whilst the change process often feels ‘sticky’, you probably work with great people and can take pride in the organisation’s achievements. Celebrate the little wins and make a point to foster positive moments. This can include social time together, sharing great client feedback and taking time to connect with the difference you make through your work.
Author: Rosie Overfield
Brumby et al, 2011 ‘Reducing psychological distress and obesity in Australian farmers by promoting physical activity’, BMC Public Health. Retrieved from https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-11-362
Foster, JA and Nuefeld, KA, 2013 ‘Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression’, Trends in Neurosciences, vol. 36, no. 5, pp. 305-312
Frederickson, BL et al, 2003 ‘What good are positive emotions in crisis?’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 84, no. 2, pp. 365-376
McGreevey, S, 2011 ‘Eight weeks to a better brain’, Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/