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How To: Access your survivor mindset in challenging times

The last two years have taught most of us how resilient we can be, but many of us are wondering how we will cope with further challenging times that we may face in 2022, especially if we are already feeling exhausted. Difficult or stressful times can affect our responses, behaviours and beliefs.

Our basic survival responses are instinctive, but we each have a preferred response to threat, whether it’s fight, flight, freeze or appease, as a result of learned past experiences and other factors, which means we are likely to behave in a particular way.

So how can we access our survivor mindset to cope with the bumps and twists and turns in the road ahead? Neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw and business mediator Jane Gunn share their thoughts…

Believe that you can cope. A survival mindset means we have a solid faith that whatever the situation is, it is survivable, and our brains begin to take charge in dealing with problems. The opposite to this is a victim mentality which can halt us in our tracks and will have an impact on our ability to make logical decisions, solve problems, manage stress, feel motivated and collaborate with others.

Deal with conflict so you can focus on the job ahead as a team. International mediator and conflict specialist, Jane Gunn says: “Any conflict, or anything that threatens our needs and interests, values, attitudes and beliefs, is reacted to as if it were an immediate threat to our survival. But if there is a culture of transparency, honesty and respect then conflict flare ups can be diffused early (but not swept under the carpet) leaving the team to work well when we most need them to.

Rest is vital after stress. Neuroscientist and business psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw says: “When we experience danger or stress, the Sympathetic-Adrena-medullar (SAM) axis quickly responds releasing adrenaline and noradrenalin. Our heart rate increases and our ‘fight, flee or freeze’ response is activated. Whilst the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis is slightly slower to respond, it will then be triggered to release cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is useful in the short term because it helps the brain’s use of glucose for energy, but it is toxic if it continues for too long. What is important is that we need the Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest and digest) to take over from the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight) to find calm again when any immediate threat is over.  Look after yourself well, take time to step away from stressful situations, prioritise good quality sleep and try and enjoy stress-busting exercise.

Communicate effectively and listen deeply. Jane Gunn says: “Learn about, understand and acknowledge every aspect of problems arising at work. Poor communication is at the heart of many relationship breakdowns, conflicts and disputes and leads to talent loss, poor productivity, low morale and loss of sales.”

Take a wider view: “We interpret everything we see, hear or experience in business according to our pre-existing view of the world but everyone understands the world in their own way We all have our strengths and knowing what yours are and playing to your strengths, and then knowing when you could benefit from the help of others is key to good survival in difficult times.”

Show empathy to others. “Put yourself in the other person’s position and understand why they see the world and their specific problems in that way to build trust and relationships. Trust in those around you and encourage others to trust in you”.

Be positive to build your resilience. Dr Lynda Shaw says: “Keep stress in check so it doesn’t become an added danger to you physically and mentally. Know you can be resilient. Build a plan, be adaptable, flexible and nimble. Whilst not everything can be controlled, a lot can be. Be positive – all challenges come to an end.”

Stay social.  “Our social needs are treated by the brain in the same way as physical needs such as food or water. Business leaders need to build this into hybrid working in the future.”