What does it really mean to create an empathic organisational culture?
Empathy is more than having the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’ position, it is being able to interpret what they are feeling, and to mirror their emotions; growing empathy requires deep consideration about how the other person or group of people may be experiencing their world, and experiencing this, emotionally, as if you were actually living their experience. For those who are naturally empathic, this capacity for authentic human connection may be viewed as a blessing or a curse, depending on whether what is felt is absorbed into being, or simply noticed, experienced and then let go; being an empath can be draining if not managed well, while healthy empathy is a strong facilitator for emotional healing, healthy relationships and positive communication. For those who struggle to be empathic, learning about what it means to be empathic, how to grow an empathic organisational culture and the behaviours that can be adapted and developed to foster an empathic culture will serve to make a positive difference. However, for a person to experience true empathy, and exhibit this capacity, what is needed is to, first of all, be able to connect authentically with the self; with how you are, and what you are feeling and to accept whatever is present. Only when we can accept ourselves can we truly accept others and be with them in their emotional realm. In a world where people are increasingly disconnected from themselves and each other, the process of re-connection may be a challenge, but when the journey through the inner work is embraced, it is one of the most beautiful processes a person can go through, indeed it opens the door to greater love.
What does an empathic organisation look like? A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum looked across highly empathetic companies to identify common practices of high empathy organizations. They learnt that:
The Benefits: The value of growing an empathic workplace culture is that it allows for the feeling of trust and connection to develop, a valuable part of human social interaction, with diverse benefits ranging from enhancing cooperation (Rumble, Van Lange, & Parks, 2009) and increasing the likelihood of helping behaviour (Davis, 1996), to fostering desirable sales behaviours (Anaza, Inyand, & Saavedra, 2018), influencing more effective leadership (Rahman & Castelli, 2013), and driving productivity, retention and motivation (Business Solver, 2019); in their survey of 1,000 employees from a variety of businesses, the researchers (Business Solver, 2019) found that:
Growing an empathic workplace culture
The inner work: Choosing to learn to connect with who you are is fundamental in learning to become more empathic. Connection with your core self, where all that you are; your feelings and emotions and your deep inner world is recognised, accepted and embraced. Only with this connection and acceptance is it possible to develop true empathy; we need to be able to feel what we feel and accept it, to be able to sense what others may be feeling and accept it. Some have this natural ability, and for others, developing empathy is a process that needs to be learnt or re-learnt, if the challenges and traumas of life have led to a disconnect with who you are. This is not a one-time workshop process, and it is not something that happens quickly, it is a process of emergence and unfolding, and sometimes of emotional and psychological healing, that needs to be nurtured with time, practice, reflection, conscious motivation, and empathic focused action. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful, empowering and rewarding personal growth processes anyone can go through.
Initiating connection: The process begins with an invitation to connect with yourself, through the breath, through mindful awareness of how you are thinking and feeling, and to sit with what is, with whatever arises. Doing this requires making time to stop, move into stillness, let go of the day’s work and racing thoughts, and become present in the moment. This can be done alone or guided and supported by a therapist or well-being coach. It may require effort to initiate this process, and if you want to, and you choose to embrace it, the effort will soon move towards the desire for more time to be present and connected because, in this place, there is peace.
Creating psychological safety: For people to feel able to connect with who they are, and each other, to authentically be present and experience or express the true feeling and sentiment, the crucial factor is feeling safe, and being in a safe space. When people feel safe and able to connect with who they are and how they feel, they become capable of true empathy. For those who have experienced trauma, feeling safe with the self may not feel possible, and so it is important to be mindful of this and not force or guide people into places they are not ready to connect with until safety has been established. When I run corporate empathy workshops, I invite people to this process if they choose to, and I highlight that for anyone that does not feel comfortable with the process, without having to disclose anything and in a space of full acceptance from all participants in the room, (having initially created a space of acceptance and non-judgement at the start) they may leave the room for the exercise, or they may sit quietly and begin to address any behaviour changes that can be made to help foster empathy within an organisation.
Co-creating an empathic organisational culture requires a willingness to embrace change and often considerable change across the board. It needs key people to drive the change; those with the power to influence, model and facilitate behavioural change towards empathy and living in alignment with the values of the heart. I like to see these influencers as the ‘Ambassadors of peace and love’; people of strong hearts and minds striving to bring about a potentially revolutionary change in the way we live and work with each other. Who are your ambassadors, how are they already driving empathy and what would happen if co-creating an empathic organisation became their conscious mission and purpose?
Article by Antonia Behan
Coaching Psychologist BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
Empowering adults and adolescents to live from the heart
Anaza, N. A., Inyang, A. E., & Saavedra, J. L. (2018). Empathy and affect in B2B salesperson performance. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 33(1), 29-41.
Business Solver (2019). State of workplace empathy. https://www.businessolver.com/resources/businessolver-empathy-monitor, accessed October 30, 2019.
Davis, M.H. (1996). Empathy: A social psychological approach. Routledge: New York.
Rahman, W. A., & Castelli, P. A. (2013). The impact of empathy on leadership effectiveness among business leaders in the United States and Malaysia, International Journal of Economics Business and Management Studies, 2(3), 83-97.
Rumble, A. C., Van Lange, P. A. and Parks, C. D. (2010), The benefits of empathy: When empathy may sustain cooperation in social dilemmas. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 856-866. doi:10.1002/ejsp.659
Acceptance is a coaching and therapy process that when integrated facilitates healing, growth, and transformation. This may be getting to acceptance of what has been lost, acceptance of what happened and that was out of our control, acceptance of things that cannot be controlled, acceptance of those consequences of what happened that we live with today, acceptance of the way other people behave, the way things are, and the limitations of our possibility and potential. When we move into acceptance, we move past anger, resentment, and frustration, we end the suppression of feelings and emotions that we did not want to face, or the outward projection of those energies onto others, we let go of the past and sometimes of people, and we are enabled to move into the present and into ourselves, we become more grounded in our lives and more at peace with each other; in essence, a negative emotional charge is dissolved.
From a place of acceptance, the baggage of the past is released into history, healing is enabled, dramas are put to rest, and space and energy is formed to give light to new possibilities and potential; a person can learn to move on with their lives, become healthier and happier, and learn to thrive again.
What can acceptance coaching bring to a corporate environment?
Acceptance of what is possible: People have different expectations on performance outcomes. Sometimes the expectations are fair and realistic, sometimes they are unrealistic, and sometimes they do not challenge someone enough. As a consequence, there can be feelings of frustration and stress when people do not perform as expected, or when potential is not recognised, and people are not challenged enough. When nothing changes, this frustration and stress can foster and the working environment becomes toxic and inefficient.
When acceptance is brought into the coaching conversation, space is created to either facilitate a person in coming to acceptance of the state of expectations, so that they can then make a conscious choice to stay in the same position or to move on, for a manager to keep someone where they are because of other strengths, or move them to a more suitable position, or to integrate reality checks when setting expectations. In this way, people move on from feelings of powerlessness, restriction, limitation, frustration or helplessness and into a place of empowerment where open and honest communication occurs and conscious choices are made.
Once a person attains acceptance, they become less stressed and less likely to project their frustrations into the working environment. A person who accepts the limitations of their time and ability, can then set healthy boundaries on what they can and cannot do, assert what they can and cannot do, ask for updates on priorities and strive to improve efficiency on what matters most, instead of trying to be perfect and get everything done. This allows those in leadership and management roles to gain a clearer understanding of what can be expected, where progress is at, and how to effectively strategy plan to achieve the company objectives, key initiatives and results. Acceptance facilitates open communication, improved overall efficiency, less stress, positive work spaces, and helps prevent the burnout of your key and most valued people.
Let me be clear, acceptance is by no means about settling for something that is a poor standard, toxic or health risk and maintaining it as such, acceptance is about recognising that this issue, is what it is, and then identifying what can and cannot be done about the issue, releasing the emotional charge, and from a place of acceptance, with the conflict and negativity dissolved, allowing for the emergence of new ideas, possibilities, and solutions that benefit the person or the company. Acceptance is sometimes a necessary step for moving forward.
Acceptance of challenging personalities: When working with a colleague with a narcissistic, histrionic or obsessive-compulsive personality, there is feeling of a general lack of care and interest in the well-being of others, and instead a focus on what the individual wants to happen, control or attain, and there is a high level of emotional drama. To those working with challenging personalities, when acceptance of how people are is integrated, instead of wanting the person to change, or planning an exit strategy, people can move through fear or avoidance of that person, manage feelings of frustration, and learn how to prevent themselves from becoming entangled in emotional dramas, or being bullied. Awareness of the personality disorder is the first step, acceptance that we cannot change people, unless they choose to change, is the second step, and from acceptance of what is, and how people are, space is created to address management tactics; how to manage a challenging personality. When people understand this, they become empowered, stronger, less stressed, more productive, more focused, and they feel happier.
Acceptance of financial remuneration: It is fair to say that most people want to earn more money and that to do so will require upskilling, improving performance, owning greater autonomy, risk-taking, becoming stronger in the leadership and management of self or others, improving communication, activating assertiveness and often, communicating with compassion. In essence, it requires a change or growth of self, and this is usually a pain point that many do not want to embrace, and so they remain in frustration. However, once acceptance of areas of growth are identified, and acceptance of the investment required to make the changes is embraced, the inner frustration, resentment, negativity, or sense of entitlement, makes way for pro-active changes that benefit many.
Acceptance of resources: There is always space for more resources to make life easier, and often not enough people, time, money, high-level performers, expertise, or experience where it is needed. Acceptance of this reality moves the focus from frustration and into a solutions-focused mindset; what can we do with what we have, what is possible, how do I streamline better, prioritise more, get better at letting things go, delegating, and saying ‘no’!
Acceptance of risk: It requires bravery to step up, leap forward, and even more to lead others in a new and often unknown direction. Along the way, you may encounter failure, fear, loss, criticism, judgment, and new levels of pressure. When the risk is accepted, which means identifying and accepting the possible consequences; the great and the small, the positive and the negative, the outstanding success or the incredible failure, emotional freedom is created, setting a person free to soar.
Acceptance of cultural adaption: From staying in the same known steady and secure space to operating in a fast past place of constant change and motion, companies operate within their own cultural styles. Sometimes maintaining the status quo works, and new members adapt and integrate, and sometimes changes are required. Integrating new values, aligning the team with a greater vision and strategy, or improving gender equality, well-being, or mental health awareness, may now be on your horizon or knocking at your door. There will be resistance, however, when people are facilitated in accepting a new way of being with each other, then conflict, hesitation, frustration, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty or insecurity make way for new understanding, compassion, solutions-focused thinking, excitement, and position action towards integrating and aligning with the new way.
Are you interested to learn more? Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Antonia Behan is a coaching psychologist (BSc, MSc, MBPsS, MICF PCC) working with whole teams within Gibraltar-based companies, and online with global senior leaders.
Antonia is passionate about facilitating the integration of a culture of mental health and well-being, including improved communication, stress and anxiety management, and growing your people. I want you to attain your greatest business possibility with healthy and happy people.
Antonia Behan BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
Corporate psychological well-being and performance development coaching
Adult and adolescent psychological wellbeing coaching and trauma therapy
Family coaching for harmony
Workshops and courses
The thought of seeing someone cry used to trigger anxiety, because I was afraid to feel my own sadness; I feared the enormity of what I held inside, and because revealing my true feeling meant allowing a certain vulnerability that I believed would make me weak and defenseless to anyone trying to hurt me; I had been bullied enough times, in enough places, to understand the importance of my defenses. I also felt like there was something wrong with me for not being able to be with sadness, and not knowing how to support others in their sadness; as a teenager, I felt inadequate as a friend and in conflict with myself because I wanted to be okay with feeling sad but my fear inhibited me.
To be able to overcome this fear I needed to learn that my sadness was acceptable and that I was strong enough to be with the tidal waves I felt certain I had suppressed. The difficulty is, you don’t get a 'taster session' on sadness, you just decide you are ready to feel, and when you decide, the challenge is allowing yourself to be with whatever arises, however big or overwhelming it is; it is a true act of surrender, and of letting go of control of yourself. The ability to overcome this fear is within your power, because self-acceptance is a choice we make for ourselves, and bravery is a choice we make when we want something enough.
It took me a long time to embrace my full emotional world, and when I did, I realised that yes it is as intense and overwhelming as I thought it might be, and, it is beautiful and rewarding because when we suppress the emotions that we do not want to experience, we also dampen and shut ourselves off from so much joy and happiness. However, I also learned that my fear element had been greatly misinformed because although my sadness was intense, and grieving aspects of my life where I needed to feel anger, loss and further sadness was painful, in reality, there was nothing about it to fear because emotion is just emotion, it flows like waves rising, falling and flowing into the shore to be absorbed by the body of the Earth. We are touched by our emotions, but we are not destroyed or broken by them, we just feel them and when we do, they move through us, and then we find ourselves on the other side of that motion, and there is a new calmness.
How to be with sadness:
How many of your employees understand your vision and strategy, and how many of them are on board?
Getting your people excited about and supportive of your vision means providing a clear picture of where your organisation wants to get to, and what it will look like when it gets there, it means sharing your passion, being transparent about the risks and challenges that may be involved and how you will support your people through this, and most importantly, it is explaining why you believe in your strategy and the successful realisation of your dream.
Communicate your vision: Do place the key vision statement in the office, boardroom, in emails, and within your social spaces, because this keeps the goal fresh in mind when the day-to-day business can too easily distract from what all the work is happening for, but know that getting people on board requires more than this. For people to really understand what you are striving for, and how you are going to achieve this, they need to what success actually looks like, what it means for them, and they need to understand the strategy and collaborate in working towards this objective with you.
Define what success looks like: how will you all know when success is attained, how will all your employees know, and how will it evidence as a success for everyone involved in the effort of creation?
Align individual successes with the global vision of success: When you align the meaning of success, at the company level, with the meaning of success for each individual, in relation to their own goals, you cultivate an environment of motivated and actively committed people, who are invested in your success.
Make your strategy simple: You want everyone to understand the key elements of your strategy. When the plan is simple, easy to understand, and leaves no room for interpretation, this allows everyone to clearly recognise how their role will contribute to implementing and supporting your strategy, fueling a sense of meaning and purpose in their role, and enabling them to make clear distinctions on what are the priorities for their department and where to ensure alignment with other departments.
Make it Measurable: a sound strategy has measurable goalposts so that advancement towards your objective can be monitored along the way. This gives everyone a clear feeling of progress when things are going well. When obstacles do occur and cause a detour from the strategy, or when putting out the daily fires of business-as-usual starts taking over, when the strategy is clear, people are able to quickly identify the detour, the need to let some things go, increase resources or make adaptions, and bring everyone back into alignment with the strategy quickly.
Get your people involved: when you invite input, you incorporate your people, so they are no longer just building your vision, they are building their vision, and as a result, they are more likely to have a stronger active interest in the collective success. When you invite input, your people are more likely to give time to brainstorming ideas to help identify how to align your strategy through the business levels, offering the potential for possibilities that you may not have considered, and sharing perspectives from angles you may not have access to because your company is just too large.
Facilitate Alignment: Too often departments are working to their own agenda, pursuing departmental ideas that they believe will contribute to the global vision, but due to misalignment with other departments, who are working on their own ideas to support the global vision, time is lost, conflicts occur, bottlenecks happen, and the system is simply not as efficient as it could be, and often a source of frustration for many team members, sometimes leading to loss of skilled and valuable employees. Making time to invite people to co-create the process of strategy alignment creates a platform for improved communication and collaboration, a positive working environment, increased feelings of possibility, and improved overall efficiency so that your company works like a polished Rolls Royce engine where all parts and in synch with each other.
How can a coaching psychologist facilitate this process for you?
Step One: Working with the CEO and senior leaders to identify how the vision is clearly communicated, facilitating the creation of a clear, simple, and measurable strategy, and identification who needs to be involved in co-creating and maintaining the alignment of the strategy throughout the company.
Step Two: Coaching your senior leaders and managers on solutions to align and integrate your strategy. This may involve, co-creating a strategy alignment team to work cross-departmentally, and improving management and leadership capabilities, including communicating clear expectations on performance, regularly updating on priorities and goals, inviting direct reports to demonstrate how what they do contributes to the strategy, coaching skills to drive a culture of individuals who take ownership of their role and responsibilities, active listening skills, effective delegation skills, and improvement of organisation and time management. In addition, psycho-education is offered to support psychological well-being, emotional regulation and work-life balance matters, to support the wellness of your people, and to ensure your valuable people stay with you, through the personal and business challenges, to share in realising your collective stories of success.
There are many ways to get through this, and each person has the right to choose their own path. I advocate for the loving path, which means that the way we get through this pandemic is with acceptance, compassion, and kindness.
Through my own social groups, I have experienced a division, a ‘them and us’ mentality that manifests its strongest force through the vaccination debate. I am not going to engage in a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ discussion here, what I am going to do is highlight that there are many ‘them and us’ debates occurring in our world right now; religious divides, race divides, gender divides, academic divides, financial divides, hierarchical divides, health divides, drinking and driving divides, and underlying all of these dividing factors is one common theme: fear.
When I accept my religious truth, when I accept my ethnicity, when I accept my gender, when I accept my level of academia, state of health, financial status and perceived positioning in my world, and when I accept and take ownership for my choices, then I have no fear of judgement because I am okay with me.
When I accept that I cannot control the choices other people make, that may or may not have consequences for me or my loved ones, then, although I may at times feel angry, I can choose to release my anger, because I cannot control others or what has been, and I cannot make a judgement on the choices made by each individual, because I do not their story; the reasons behind the choices made. Should understanding on individual choices be brought to light, I may develop a new perspective that alters my judgement and dissolves my anger, or not.
When I accept the beliefs of others, even when they contradict my own, then I am at peace with my soul. I cannot change the beliefs of others. I can offer inspiration and a positive influence to invite them to expand or change a point of view, but ultimately that choice, is theirs.
When I embrace my fears and work on myself to manage them, and seek to let go of that which I cannot control, while creating positive solutions, in alignment with my heart-centred values, on what I can control or influence, then I empower myself. From a place of personal power, fear diminishes and life moves on with new possibility and potential to co-create and grow in the areas of my life, my soul and my world, that I want to nurture and give life to.
People have a right to feel afraid; there are very real situations that impact health, life and quality of life. People have a right to feel angry: the lives of many have been turned upside down and thrown into uncertainty. Some have experienced great losses and for others that loss may be still to come. Some fear having a virus, some fear losing loved ones, some fear losing quality of life, some fear relationships crumbling, some fear losing their homes or jobs, some fear vaccines, some fear government agendas, and some fear the unknown. Some of these fears my manifest as truth and some may not. However, regardless of what happens, of what is truth, what is fear actually doing to effect change or influence the outcome? When we let go of what we cannot control and give energy to influencing a positive outcome in areas that matter to us, we may let fear walk beside us and along our path, because we acknowledge it is real and serving as a warning to pay attention, but we do allow it to consume us, limit, restrict or confine us, we keep walking on, living our lives.
The fear of our present climate has created fuel for more people to develop anxiety and depression, to turn against each other; to project anger, hate, and distrust, and to lose sight of hope, possibility, potential, opportunity and the blessing and gifts that can be born through tragedy, change and loss. I write this as a mother who lost a child and who knows the pain of tragedy and that blessings can follow when we choose bravery over fear. We cannot control life and death, but we can choose to live despite our fears and our differences. From this moment, we hold the power to decide that whatever we are going through, whatever we feel, however life has affected us, with whatever we fear, and from where we are at right now, that we have the power to choose to respond with love, or not to. I like to think that with a global tragedy affecting so many at the same time, that the best we can do is use this an opportunity to grow our love, and learn to live in our world with more understanding, acceptance, compassion, and kindness, for ourselves, and each other.
What does responding with love look like?
From a place of depression: If you can, responding with love means taking small gentle steps each day to do something that contributes to your health and happiness. This may be a creative activity, walking in nature, meeting a friend in person or online, cooking something you love, watching a comedy that has the potential to make you laugh, having a warm bath and playing feel good music and no matter what, ensuring you get enough good quality sleep, which is essential to healing and recovery. Once some positive feelings begin to emerge, you may be able to start seeing some hope. If you cannot help yourself, then asking for help is an act of love.
From a place of anger: If you are feeling angry about something that has happened, about what someone has done to you, about choices others have made or might make, about a loss, or because you feel afraid, uncertain or out of control, responding with loves means first deciding how you want to manage the feeling of anger that you are experiencing? A loving response is to go for a workout, sing, shout (but not at someone), or throw feathers fiercely. Once the intensity of the anger has passed, it is deciding, as a person choosing to live from love, how do you want to respond to the anger trigger? If someone has done something to hurt you or has betrayed you, you may want to assert how you feel, ask for an apology, ask for something you want or need? You might not get it, but asking is an act of love and empowerment that also gives the other person a chance to respond in a positive way. If you don’t get what you want, as a person choosing to live from love, how do you want to respond? You can stay angry, you can seek revenge, you can take legal action as an act of self-empowerment, you can move on, and you choose better quality people to be in your life, and you can choose to let your anger go, because holding on to anger only hurts you and affects people around you, and it changes nothing; we cannot change the past and we cannot force others to change. Releasing anger and choosing to move on sets you free and allows your life to move on in new and more peaceful waters.
From a place of uncertainty: it is recognising that this uncertainty is nothing new, because nothing is certain, it never was; some things only appeared that way, like a job contract. If you are triggered by current uncertainty, you were probably triggered by past uncertainty, and you got through that, so you have a track record of surviving feelings of fear about uncertainty.
From a place of being traumatised it is understanding that something outside of your control happened and it has created a response in your brain that has activated your threat response causing you to feel continued anxiety, tension or panic. A loving response is to first of all be gentle, do things to calm and relax your body, so that you body can start to get the message that it is safe now. Then, it is working through your thought processes, to dismantle false beliefs, fear beliefs and distorted beliefs, and start to form a way of thinking that helps you to reclaim your power and reclaim your life. This is described in how we can respond to fear and anxiety below.
From a place of fear or anxiety: It is asking yourself are you actually safe right now (Safe means that your life is not in immediate danger?) If you are not safe, do whatever you can to get to safety. If you feel unsafe but actually you are safe, recognise this and it may bring your anxiety down a level. The next step is to address where you feel insecure, and where you have fear, worry or doubt? Now place each item in a mental box, so that the overwhelm can begin to be managed, by addressing one issue at a time. From a place of wanting to respond with love (care, kindness, compassion, understanding, acceptance and healthy encouragement), consider one challenge at a time and ask: Is this a fact, a fear or a feeling? Is this actually happening or what might happen? If this happens, what positive things could I do for myself, another, or my world?
If we respond to how the pandemic has affected us, however it has, from wherever we are at, and with however we are feeling, with love, by accepting what is, accepting how we feel, and choosing to work on our thought processes and own emotional management responses in kind and positive ways, through self-help practices and or with professional support, our love will enable us to come through this time together. If we move through this pandemic with love, as our collective conscious response, we shall succeed in creating a new normal where the world we live in is a place of greater love. We have the power to create this and this pandemic has provided a perfect opportunity to really challenge us to raise our game; to raise our hearts. When trauma and tragedy enter our lives, we have the power to turn them into blessings that help create move love in the world. This is our power. This power belongs to you.
Written by Antonia Behan © Copyright September 2021
Antonia Behan BSc, MSc, MICF PCC, MBPsS.
Trauma informed adult and adolescent coaching and therapy
Based in Sotogrande, Spain.
The pandemic has left many thinking they can no longer plan for or control life, with feelings of being helpless or powerless to forces beyond our control. There has been a surge in fear and worry thoughts about health, mortality, loved ones and finances, and, as a consequence of the global trauma-inducing event, there has also been an increase in those suffering from anxiety and depression. In a world that has become even more uncertain, what can we do and how can we respond when so many fundamental aspects of our lives have been affected?
Establish Routine Joy and Happiness: Some things have changed, some remain the same, and some are the same, but different. When we returned from our different levels of confinement, to resume our daily routine, and it was the same as it was before, this helped to restore feelings of security and eased some anxiety; it was one step towards balance restoration. When we returned to our daily routine, but it was not all the same; if certain elements of joy and pleasure have still not yet been re-established, such as: returning to work, but not yet able to meet up on Friday as a group of twenty in the bar, or children returning to lessons in the classroom, but not yet able to mix with friends in break times, and parents dropping kids off at school, but not yet able to spark up conversations with other parents outside the school gates; these pleasure related losses that have not yet been re-established, can prevent a person from feeling that sense of balance begin to return. This is because re-establishing apparent routine alone is not enough to help restore balance, what is needed is those elements of pleasure within the routine. By recognising this and identifying the losses, it becomes possible to consider where pleasure can be included within the current reality, to enable new feelings of joy and happiness to grow.
Re-Vision: The pandemic has forced change upon many, and with this comes the opportunity, or necessity, to re-vision our personal and professional lives. This is not an act of giving in, it is a choice to adapt and change because, in reality, this is the only healthy option. When we open our minds to wonderment and ask: ‘what is possible?’, and indeed, ‘what could become something even better than I imagined in the pre-pandemic reality?’, it is possible to awaken new possibilities and potential. To help you reassess where you are heading and what you most want to focus on now, identifying your priority values is key.
FREE WORKSHEET: Please download your free values worksheet to help you identify what really matters to you the most right now in the different areas of your life.
Reclaim Your Power: Being forced into home confinement, understandably created feelings of being trapped, powerless, helpless, scared, worried, angry, and stressed, and for some, worrying it could happen again fuels the residual energies of that confinement. When things have happened to us that have caused harm, impacted fundamental human rights, basic needs, and the factors that help us maintain well-being, it can feel that power has been stripped from us.
We can reclaim our power by processing what has happened: acknowledging the feelings and emotions we have about what happened; getting angry, acknowledging anxiety, accepting loss, even the most painful loss, such as losing loved ones, and then, from a place of accepting what we feel, make a clear decision about what we are going to do next. When we make a choice about what we want, and take action in the name of what we want, we demonstrate that, although we may have been affected by the trauma we have been through, we have not been victimised, limited, restrained, or diminished. And, when we make these choices in alignment with our most important values, and those values are heart-centered, then we move forward with the power of love awakened from within, often with even greater ferocity than before, to keep growing our lives.
Ask yourself, ‘how do you want your love to move your world?’
When you affirm this, own this, and act upon it, with all the love in your heart, you reclaim your power to be and create as you choose in this world. Do this with love, and you emerge from the darkness, the trauma, and the tragedy with the power to affect great and positive change in your life and the lives of others.
This global pandemic has been and continues to be a challenge for most people; from travel restrictions and cancelled holidays, to loss of income, the tragic and devastating loss of loved ones and the development of new or pre-existing mental health related problems, including anxiety and depression. The initial shock felt at the start of the Covid 19 pandemic was a normal reaction to a global health scare; we didn’t know what was happening, what narrative to believe, and those in positions of authority, in most cases, reacted in a manner that served to evoke more fear and confusion. People felt afraid, out of control, restricted, trapped, and concerned or worried about loved ones, food supply, finances and general health and safety.
While the fears and worries prevail, some people have been able to adapt to what is happening by accepting the unknown, accepting what is out of our control, and implementing adaptive choices based on what is within our control, including: moving work online, creating wine and tapas meet ups in video chat rooms, deeply cleaning the house, enjoying time for baking, re-connecting with family members and making healthy choices in response to the information presented. Some of these people adapted by seeking meaning in suffering and chose to see the pandemic through a positive perspective; they were able to allow the pandemic to provide an opportunity to recognise or reassert what truly matters, and make quality of life adjustments accordingly.
However, not everyone has been able to adapt or cope in a healthy way with how they have been feeling, because they have not been aware of healthy coping strategies, because the pandemic forced them into terrifying situations where they were not safe and unable to escape, or because the pandemic has traumatised them. When the initial shock activated the central nervous system, causing a fight, flight or freeze response, instead of experiencing the natural rebalancing effects of the autonomic nervous system, which automatically kicks in to process fear and shock, restore stability to heart rate, breathing, and feeling safe, and enabling a return to rational thinking, which would allow a person to make healthy choices to support emotional wellness, if they wish to, some people have remained in a highly activated state, causing them feel that they are not safe, and to suffer intense and overwhelming emotional distress, intense anxiety and strong feelings of depression that they can no longer cope with.
This highly activated state was made worse by the minute-to-minute updates about the situation, portrayed through dramatic and fearmongering communication styles from the media, fuelling people’s fears of a highly contagious virus that may affect them or loved ones, fears of a conspiracy to remove human rights and freedoms, fears of forced untested vaccinations, or fears about being in a pandemic situation forever. Due to remaining in a highly activated state, some of these people have developed symptoms of acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. Due to feeling continually anxious and afraid, and without the ability to restore balance or calm, these people have needed to find external sources to help them cope with the intensity of their thoughts, feelings and emotions. Some turned to a glass or few of wine every evening to provide short term relief from anxiety or a low mood, others have chosen food, drugs, painkillers or addictive or obsessive behaviours to distract from how they are feeling. For many, even when the pandemic passes and COVID 19 becomes similar to an annual flu season, those who have been traumatised will continue to experience anxiety and depression until they learn how to heal and restore their inner calm.
This picture is nothing new; the pandemic has simply brought to our attention the very real suffering so many experience as a result of trauma inducing events. What we can take from this pandemic is that it has brought to the table an opportunity for long overdue conversations with those may be suffering. Having these conversations needs to happen in a safe place to ensure people are not re-traumatised or triggered into states they cannot control. The following points outline how to create a safe space to address mental health related matters at work:
Create a safe space: In the context of mental health, a safe space means an environment that allows a person to manage their emotional distress in an effective way. This may involve providing a physical space where people can go for a quiet moment to restore emotional balance and distract from negative and fear thoughts. It also means providing ‘safe people’ to hold a trauma informed space of compassion, empathy and kindness, where a person feels safe to open up, share their struggles and work on solutions.
Provide safe support people: A person who is safe is trauma-informed, which means they know how to create a safe place, foster trust, empower the person they are supporting, and are accepting, compassionate and able to support emotional regulation, which means the facilitator needs to be able to self-regulate and have a good level of emotional intelligence. You may have a mental health first aider or HR person with specialised training who would be suitable for this role, you may wish to bring in a trauma-informed therapist or psychologist to facilitate employee psychological well-being and mental health, or you may wish to form a mental health policy that provides the fees for an employee to attend a certain number or private and confidential therapy sessions outside of the office.
Establish psychological safety: Because trauma inducing events can activate the central nervous system to behave as if a real danger is present, even when the danger or perceived danger has passed, traumatised people continue to experience the sensations of being in danger, under attack, or in the fear scenario even when it is safe. By encouraging the development of positive coping skills, this solutions-focused attitude helps to activate the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for logic and reason, which can enable a person to begin to recognise that there is no actual real danger right now, in this moment, rather there is a ‘what if’ fear, which is an entirely different story. When a person can logically assert that they are safe right now, this can help reduce symptoms of emotional distress and sometimes help restore some sense of calm.
Know how to manage an emotional crisis: If someone is emotionally distressed or having an anxiety attack, the five senses exercise is one simple, non-invasive and effective technique that can be offered to help bring a person back into the present moment, where they can be reminded that they are safe right now. Ask the person to do the following five things, connecting with each sense in turn:
Be clear on what is suitable office based mental health support?
It is important to understand that as a manager or colleague you are not expected to be a psychologist or therapist, but there are some practices that you can provide that offer effective support and aid in the reduction of symptoms of anxiety, stress, fear and depression.
Help them to restore routine: Creating a sense of routine can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression because routines help to provide a sense of structure and security where you know what to expect, which can be useful for times of uncertainty or with feelings of being out of control. Creating a routine might include beginning with the same morning routine upon waking, taking set tea and lunch breaks through the day, scheduling time to be alone, putting a workout in the diary, finishing work at the same time and not taking work home, and making a note each day about what you feel grateful for.
Help reduce pressure: What can you do to reduce the pressure your employee is feeling? Is there a project someone else can do right now? What can be delegated or delayed for a short time? What part of their workload can you take on for a short-time? What low priority items can be let go? And what can you say to let this person know that their mental health challenges are not causing their job to be at risk, but that you will support them in healing and returning to wellness, as much as you can in your professional capacity.
Remind them of their accomplishments: When we experience intense emotions, it is common for the brain to turn to negative thinking, with feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness. However, these negative thoughts are often cognitive distortions and not actual facts or truth. By challenging negative and fear thoughts, a person can be helped in restoring balance. One way to do this in a work environment is to remind the person of their accomplishments, and it doesn’t matter if they are small, because many small ones collaborate to create a new feeling of positivity and competence.
Encourage them to seek professional support: Have a few contact numbers of psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists that they can choose to contact, and remind them that asking for help is an act of vulnerability that takes great strength, and it is a choice to self-love, because you care enough to want to feel better.
To be a heart centred leader is to consciously live from the values of love. This means to live and lead with acceptance, appreciation, authenticity, compassion, empathy, honesty, gratitude, kindness and respect, and to be sincerely passionate about empowering the growth and development of others.
The benefits to you when you lead from the heart far outweigh the strength building challenges you will be invited to face through transition. This is not for the faint hearted, leading from the heart is for those who really care, those who want to make an inspired positive difference and who are willing to dare to be vulnerable to make this happen, and it is for those who may not necessarily believe they have the strength to stand strong in their beliefs and values right now, but who suspect they may have this quiet inner light waiting to be given a chance to shine.
If you have read this far, then you are likely to be someone who is inspired by the possibility and the challenge of leading from the heart. If you are someone who wants more; a better quality of life, improved relationships, a feeling of core mental and emotional strength, and to be an inspired facilitator to the emerging talent and potential of yourself and others, then I invite you to consider how your are already leading from the heart and where you can grow yourself and your people. Ask yourself, how well do you:
To lead from the heart is to walk your talk in alignment with your values, creating a ripple effect that inspires and empowers others to walk the path to living in a field of greater love and harmony.
Facilitator in Leading from the Heart
Coaching and Therapy for Adults and Adolescents
BSc Psychology (Hons) MBPsS
MSc Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Psychological Practice
Qualified Professional Coach MICF PCC
Certified CBT practitioner
Private office in Pueblo Nuevo (Beside Sotogrande)
Also available at Ocean Clinic Gibraltar and online via Zoom or Doxy.
I work with individuals and organisations to facilitate leadership from the heart, partnering with you to identify and integrate your heart-centred values, to develop the behaviour qualities that reflect these values, and become a source of inspiration for your family, pupils, community and workforce, while empowering you to develop a greater sense of peace, freedom, happiness, harmony, and ultimately success where is matters most to you.
Get in touch:
As we scale the peak and cross the platform from where we were to where we are going, unable to see what the new planes will bring in the new world, and uncertain of the new horizones we shall meet, what can we do in this moment while we face uncertainty and the great unknown?
We can bring ourselves into this present moment, which for now requires a complete surrender of what we knew. As central governments decide, albeit with our influence, the course of our journey ahead (no, we are not powerless, and yes we have influence) and while in this present moment we are bombarded with confusing and contradictory information forcing us to admit that in reality, we do not know the truth about what is and we cannot know the truth about what is, and that it is hard to know who or what to believe, what we can do in this time of surrender, is start to listen to and trust our inner compass.
I invite you to connect with your inner compass, and delve deep into where you core values rest in this moment: what is this time teaching you and what matters most to you? What is this time teaching you about what mattered to you about how your life was, and how the world was? What is this time teaching you about who you want to be and how you want to live and how you want to see our world evolve?
Now, in solitude, which may be peaceful, chaotic, fearsome, overwhelming, emotional, stressful, calm or exciting; whatever it feels like for you, and perhaps a rollercoaster of all of this, in this time of change and opportunity for reflection, what core values; the things that really matter to you, do you want to see integrated more into how you live, what you do and how our world evolves?
Write these down, write down why they matter; why these values matter to you and what will having them and living them give you and mean for you and your world, and our world?
Then, in clear recognition of what truly matters to you, for you and your world, I invite you to draw closer to your heart and listen to you heart speak about those values that matter most to your heart, and ask, why do these values matter, and what would your world look like and feel like and sound like with these heart centred values lived?
Now that a picture is forming about how to live from these heart-centred values, I ask you to make a commitment to action: what can you do to live more from the values of the heart, your heart, and what will you do to evidence this, and when will you do this, and how will you know when this is done?
We are crossing a bridge of opportunity for change, some may take it, some may not, but the opportunity is here for those who want to take it and to evolve. I feel it, I feel I am walking in the footsteps of a dawn to a new world, and as I walk, consciously from the eve of what was into this new dawn, mindful of what I am letting go of, what no longer matters, and what I cannot bring with me because I recognise that I need let some things go, for my peace and happiness; the values I wish to grow in my new dawn, I am mindfully considering what vision do I want craft in the skies of the new landscape that is birthing, and how much do I want to contribute to that vision. I understand, through the laws of co-creation, that the vision in my mind, the vision of peace, happiness and harmony, can only come about if I walk with peace, in happiness and in harmony, conscioulsy, day to day, while contributing, in action to these values on a personal, local and globale scale in my own small way.
This is a call first to reflection and then to action. Your reflection, on the values of your heart, and your action, on the values of your heart are important right now.
I know when you and I listen to the voice of love, my voice, your voice, our voices, that even if our voices sing with shades of different colours, we can and shall make rainbows together in the skies of a new paradise.
Antonia Behan BSc, MSc,MBPsS MICF PCC
Providing coaching and therapy for adults and adolecents
Suddenly the world changed; overnight adolescents were isolated from their friends, moved to on-line learning, not allowed to leave their homes and told that a dangerous virus was circulating and that it could kill their vulnerable loved ones if they did not socially distance. Some teenagers have responded well; they are able to accept the situation, they do not feel afraid, they are relieved to be away from the stress of school, they have found online learning different but okay, and are happy to be home with family and feeling generally more relaxed and doing what is asked to take care of vulnerable loved ones. Other teenagers miss their friends, they feel lonely and isolated, they struggle with on-line learning and find it difficult to focus, and without their daily routine, these factors of change have created anxiety in those who were not anxious and heightened anxiety in those who are.
Without coping strategies to deal with what is happening and the unknown road ahead, some adolescents are at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety, anxiety disorders and depression, and may attempt to cope using unhealthy tools, such as alcohol or drugs, they may try to take control buy diving deeper into obsessive behaviours and addictive habits, they may seek to self-soothe by over-eating, or try to control anxiety through starvation. When we cannot change the situation, we can empower teenagers with healthy coping skills to manage what is happening and how they are feeling.
The first and most important item is family communication. Adolescents need emotion-focused communication, which means parents are open in expressing how they feel about what is happening. This helps a teenager feel better able to express their own feelings, and when feelings and emotions are open and seen, then coping strategies can be explored. Problems occur when parents keep their feelings to themselves, even when this is believed to help their teenager. What can happen is that a teenager sees that a parent is not able to engage in an emotion-focused conversation and then feels they need to protect that parent from emotion, and so the teenager keeps their feelings to themselves and tries to cope alone.
When communication is opened up, the conversation can move into deeper understanding about what is happening, how people are feeling about what is happening, and why they are feeling what they feel. It may be that a teenager is stressed because they cannot focus with online learning, which may contribute to fear-based thoughts about exam performance or university placement. The reason this teenager cannot focus is because their fear-based thoughts activate the amygdala in the brain, which causes the fight or flight response to be triggered, making it very difficult to concentrate or apply logic or focus. When this happens, it is possible to learn techniques to counter the fear-response to evoke calm which in turn will allow the prefrontal cortex area of the brain to function better, which aids focus and attention, while reducing the activity of the amygdala. A teenager may be worried that people they love may die, they may be experiencing distressing feelings and overwhelming worry, and they become obsessed about disinfecting things so that they don’t transmit anything to their parents or grandparents. This could develop into an anxiety disorder, which causes prolonged distress. Exploring together how you feel about what is happening, talking about death or fear of death, normalising it as part of our lives and how we cope with this, and identifying what your teenager needs to feel supported and this how support can be given, can go a long way towards easing anxiety and cultivating feelings of calm and security.
Some techniques to ease fear-based thoughts and anxiety include: breathing or muscle relaxation techniques, talking through worries and moving into solutions, identifying fears and applying logic and reason to formulate a more realistic point of view, modifying extreme and obsessive behaviours to create healthier patterns of behaviour, identifying healthy actions to manage the situation, learning to let go of what cannot be controlled and focus on what can with a healthy approach, engaging in activities that boost serotonin, endorphins and dopamine; hormones which generate positive feelings, and looking at ways to turn a difficult situation into a time of opportunity and possibility.
If you would like to explore how to support your teenager in managing anxiety, please get in touch:
Coaching Psychologist BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
0034 620 741 361
Private office near Sotogrande, with consultations also available at Ocean Clinic Gibraltar and Atlantic Clinic Nueva Andalucia. Online sessions available via Zoom, Skype or Doxy.
Dalton L, Rapa E and Stein A (2020) Protecting the psychological health of children through effective communication about COVID-19, The Lancet: Child and Adolescent Health
Grubic N, Badovinac S, Johri A (2020) Student mental health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: A call for further research and immediate solutions. International journal of social psychiatry https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764020925108