All About You

All About You: Staying resilient during tough times

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

It’s incredible how small birds such as finches and sparrows can survive brutally cold winters. I’ve marveled about this many times. For several years now, I’ve been an avid “bird feeder.” Birds can be tough and handle extreme conditions, but they’re also vulnerable to slight biological insults such as bacteria and dampness. Like humans, birds can be both rugged and sensitive.

So, what allows birds to survive a severe winter? Resilience. It’s a trait that gives individuals the ability to overcome extreme challenges, such as the ones we’re currently experiencing.

Although the amount varies, all of us have a reserve of resilience. Some people can “bounce back” from the most severe trauma, while others fall apart during a seemingly minor difficulty. If you’re resilient, you “recover quickly from difficulties” and have “the ability to cope during setbacks or with limited resources.” Birds have developed natural tactics such as fluffing feathers and slowing down their metabolism, which gives them the resilience to survive frigid conditions. We, too, can use certain tactics to handle adversity.

I don’t know where I lie along the resilience scale, but I have three tactics I use to help me handle distressing situations. I’d like to share them.

Help and encourage others

When you interact with your co-workers, whether virtually or in person, now’s the time to use your coaching skills as a safety and health professional to encourage them and raise their spirits. You’re also probably able to inspire and help them be diligent in their physical distancing behavior.

I spent several years in the nuclear power industry, including a few in the radiation protection department, where I regularly dealt with preventing radioactivity from spreading on people and objects. So I’ve been able to pass on some “professional” insight to my friends and family about how easily a contaminant (virus) can move, as well as tips on ways they can protect themselves and others. Not only do I enjoy doing this, it helps reduce my sense of helplessness about what’s going on.

Don’t lose your sense of humor

Expressing humor during trying times will significantly improve your resiliency. I’ve been telling the folks who wait on me at the grocery store that they have a “lovely smile.” Of course, I can’t see their mouth behind their mask, so the compliment is absurd. But I can tell from their eyes and chuckles that they enjoyed my comment. I’ve also gotten a few laughs from colleagues and friends by jokingly telling them that lately I’ve truly learned the difference between spending “quality” and “quantity” time with my darling wife.

Many things about the pandemic are sad and shouldn’t be made fun of. But, in general, appropriate humor during stressful situations can reduce anxiety. The saying “laughter is the best medicine” applies today as much as it ever has.

Here’s my favorite example of humor helping relieve tension during a stressful situation. A friend of mine used to sell and set up temporary communication equipment for emergencies such as underground mining collapses. During one mining cave-in, in which a group of miners in Pennsylvania were trapped, getting the communication lines set up took several hours. Once a communication link was made, a trapped miner called out, “We better be getting overtime for this!” My friend said everyone above ground laughed, and it helped relieve the tension. (All the miners were rescued.)

Be grateful

I’ve learned through regular practice how to be grateful for what I’ve got. Although my in-person speaking business has been put on hold, I’m still thankful that I have enough food, water and plenty of electronic equipment. Disappointingly, I can’t go and eat inside my favorite restaurant. However, I’m delighted I can watch the finches and sparrows enjoy a meal at the bird feeders in my yard. What are you grateful for?

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps safety professionals become better leaders through his keynotes, workshops, articles and books so they can create vibrant safety cultures. His popular “Mindfully Safe” keynote teaches employees how to focus better and improve their situational awareness, a key skill to preventing incidents. To contact Richard, visit makesafetyfun.com.

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