When did everyone get so angry? I don’t know about you, but I am seeing more anxiety, anger and aggression in my interactions every day. If you think this troubling dynamic is on the rise, you’re right: 40% more people reported high levels of anxiety last year, on top of a 36% jump in 2017.
Anger and associated behaviors are skyrocketing in the workplace too. 63% of workers report being impacted by incivility at work at least once a month, and 75%of employees say they’ve been affected by bullying—two million American workers per year report being victims of workplace violence.
New York Times columnist David Brooks recently suggested historians define our era by pervasive fear in politics, media and society. Brooks concluded, “Fear comes in the night. But eventually, you have to wake up in the morning, get out of bed and get stuff done.”
People bring their feelings of fear to work, where the outrage and tribalism of daily life are compounded by the uncertainty and stress of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. How can someone who is already worried they’ll be replaced by an algorithm meet the workday with optimism? How can they handle “ordinary” stress?
It’s tempting to retreat to our angry corners and snarl at the world, just like we do on Twitter.
It’s Not You, It’s Evolution
An unfair judgment or a sarcastic remark triggers autonomic responses in our brains that evolved ages ago, stimulating the fight, flee or freeze reactions once necessary for survival.
The subconscious mind, however, can’t distinguish between real or imagined threats, and when we suppress our reaction (through etiquette or fear), the autonomic nervous system keeps right on sending that danger signal.
Anxiety—the fear of future threat—is the result, creating tension, worried thoughts and physical responses like increased blood pressure. It’s not always logical, but it’s a physiological reality.
Then, that unresolved anxiety leads to anger—the emotional reaction to someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong. Anger arises from frustration or in reaction to behaviors such as incivility and bullying. And anger, in turn, causes aggression in one form or another. Reactive aggression is the behavioral expression of anger. It seeks to harm others. Repressed anger and aggression can lead to depression or even heart disease.
Failure, poor company performance and even extreme change in workplace processes can get the cycle going.
The toxic chain of fear, anxiety, anger and aggression in our workplaces is killing productivity because it leaves us psychologically and even physically exhausted.
Break the Toxic Chain
It’s impossible to banish stress entirely from the workplace. We can equip people with the emotional and behavioral skills to interrupt the stress cycle, and to bounce back with resilience training. When individuals learn resilience, they can maintain productivity even when they are hit by negative people or events.
meQuilibrium research found that amongst employees who have developed strong resilience skills, 96% of people became able to inoculate themselves from clinically significant anxiety.
How do they do it? To keep their brains from going into threat-reaction mode, they learned to stay present with the situation, recognize emotions as they arise and defuse stress. They become less frustrated and less angry than their peers when things go wrong. They are better at easily dispelling negative thoughts and more able to keep their emotions and behaviors in check. With 90 days of training in resilience, people are able to reduce their sense of worry by 52%
It’s important to set the stage by both modeling resilience ourselves and giving teams the tools to become more resilient. The following four skills can make a huge impact on any environment:
- Make work a safety zone: A safe workplace is supportive, allows for mistakes, fosters good communication and generally makes us feel safe about belonging in our jobs. Like physical safety, psychological safety is a local issue—it’s every manager’s job to foster safety in their team. That doesn’t mean no conflict—it means conflict is recognized and dealt with in a way that leaves people feeling safe.
- Interrupt chain reactions with emotional intelligence: When we pause to recognize our emotions (or those of colleagues), we put the toxic chain on hold, creating time for a well-considered solution.
- Shift to a curiosity mindset: When we change our attitude toward a problem and become curious about the problem and possible solutions, we move neurological activity from the amygdala’s primitive stress response to the frontal lobe, where executive functions allow us to consider the issue in wholly different ways. As a bonus, such brain activity rewards us with increased creativity and pleasure.
- Learn the language: Words matter—and it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Learn words and body language that diminish threats.
Fear and anxiety are on the rise, and while we should be looking for solutions to this on a broad social level, in the meantime we have work to do. Building resilience not only prepares employees to adapt and manage stress, but it equips them to handle challenges with agility and a growth mindset.
Article Source: Jan Bruce Forbes