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Are You Stressed Out? Tell a New Story.

In the four years after the initial SARS infections in Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong discovered that over 40% of SARS survivors “had an active psychiatric illness, most commonly PTSD or depression.” These disturbing research findings are the tip of the iceberg of what we will begin to see as a follow on to the global impact of Covid-19 which is ratcheting up levels of anxiety worldwide. Employee and consumer stress levels are high, which means performance is down and pressure on leadership is up.


As those of us that lead organizations start seeing increased pressure, stress, change and challenge at work, how do we prevent our own burnout and keep others on track, even with a new pandemic of mental health issues looming? The first thing we can control is our MINDSET.


Our mindset is basically the lens through which we view everything in our life. When we have confidence and optimism, much can be achieved. Whatever our circumstances are, we can look at those circumstances from an optimistic—or pessimistic viewpoint. It’s up to us! If we listen to the stories we tell about ourselves, about others, and about what happens to and around us we can re-shape our worldview. This approach is called altering our “explanatory style.” It is how to explain events in the world. Numerous researchers have associated an optimistic explanatory style with better academic, athletic and work performance, better coping skills, less likelihood of succumbing to depression and better physical health.


Explanatory style revolves around the “3P’s” that were identified by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., known as one of the progenitors of the “positive psychology” movement. These 3Ps are: Permanence, Pervasiveness, and Personalization.


Permanence: Believing a bad situation will last forever

Pervasiveness: Believing that situation applies across all parts of your life

Personalization: Believing that ultimately the problem is you, instead of considering that outside factors are at play

So what does this mean for building your own resilience at work? The first three steps are:


1.) Focus on your own individual strengths. When we focus, we broaden and build what we focus on. We have a choice - should we focus on what we don’t have, can’t do, or are lacking in, we can broaden and build our feelings of uncertainty and weakness. When we focus on our personal strengths we build our confidence, optimism and positivity.


2.) Build relationships and community. In a time of increased social distancing and virtual workplaces we need to be ever more conscious of building a sense of group unity and individual trusting relationships.


3.) Watch your words. The stories you tell are powerful, for good or for ill. If you take this week to focus on what you say out loud and make sure to practice discipline around your “explanatory style” it will make a powerful impact. When you want to complain, think first and reframe that complaint into a request or action. When you want to tell a negative story, reframe it into an opportunity to learn from hardship or difficulty versus collapse under it.



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