Written by Wiremu Matthews
Two key aspects of our day to day lives that we often take for granted. That is until something negatively impacts or threatens us.
Our emotional agility, or our ability to alter our feelings and reactions in a conscious manner to situations can be put under strain should our perception of our own safety be threatened.
We all deserve to feel protected, encouraged and appreciated at work. But what happens when every day, we enter an environment that is none of those? Here we look at a case study of a client who was experiencing a severe lack of psychological safety in her own workplace.
Psychological safety at work.
I listened to a coaching client speak of the fear she experiences every morning as she wakes up and prepares to go to work. Lately it has been happening every morning… not just on Monday mornings.
The brain chatter starts as soon as she wakes. The incessant ‘what if’s’, ‘what then’s’, ‘should haves’ and ‘could do’s’. “If they say this, then I’ll say that.” “But if I say this then they’ll say that.”
The body then gets involved. You start to feel queasy, heartburn, butterflies in your stomach, headache creeps in, neck and back tighten with pain. All of these are direct effects of a body that is doing it’s best to deal with an increasing stress. It is trying to keep you AWAY from unsafe and potentially threatening situations.
You get to work. The feelings get worse throughout the day the longer you stay in the environment. More thoughts and feelings surface that either make you want to cry, get angry, or both.
It feels like everyone is against you, like they’re all out to get you. You begin to notice more and more things others do that annoy you.
Until she finally arrives at home (her safe zone) and she is able to push those thoughts and feelings down with comfort eating or avoidance drinking. We’ve all been there before…
And then, if it’s a good night, will finally get to sleep at some point for a break from the brain chatter. Until the next morning. And so the cycle continues. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year.
When you’re in a situation like this it feels like your brain is against you.
However, your brain is actually working overtime FOR you – not against you. Your brain is ONLY interested in keeping you safe. Safe. NOT happy; SAFE. Safety is paramount.
My client (and many other clients), feel unsafe at work. Not because of any physical hazards that need isolating, minimising or eliminating; not due to a missing or non-existent health and safety policies, and not even because the building is falling down in places.
They feel unsafe at a psychological and emotional level. Many of these same clients also feel unsafe at home in certain situations. Imagine not having a place, an environment where you can at least feel safe, protected, genuinely loved and appreciated.
When people feel unsafe the immune system is put on high alert.
Your immune system responds directly to mental, emotional and physical environments. When the body is under constant stress it becomes highly sensitive. Allergies may flare up and even conditions that you thought had long been in remission. Colds, flu’s, inflammatory conditions may all come to the fore. The energy your body was using to protect you against these conditions is now being redirected.
The brain is under significant strain to help you figure out how to get out of the situation and get into a ‘safe’ environment again. Therefore your energy is being diverted to your brain and to your muscles. Your body is in fight or flight mode. It is ready to run.
You can only be in EITHER protective mode OR growth mode.
You can not be in both at the same time. If you’re feeling unsafe, tricked, used, frustrated, annoyed, anxious, alone, isolated, un-heard and un-acknowledged at home or work, then you will be in protective mode. Your body is ‘armouring up’.
In protective mode, you can forget about growth, innovation, creativity, progress, hitting targets, sticking to commitments, and acheiving outcomes and results.
You may well get results in the short term and at high cost to your health, but it will not be sustainable. And you will be getting the results out of FEAR.
Fear of what will happen if you do not get the results people expect.
The feeling of fear is built around the perceived expectation you have that if you do not get the results people expect of you, you will feel more isolated, more alone, more on the outside and in an even more threatening situation.
And so you exhaust yourself to get the result.
We want to help you with tools that increase your emotional agility and avoid that situation.
Emotional agility means:
- you will respond differently to stressful situations,
- you will stay out of protective mode more often,
- you will stick to commitments and achieve goals more often,
- you will grow and progress,
- you will live more positively.