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Mind Matters: Taking care of our personal resilience by Dawn Grzena (Guest Feature)

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

On World Mental Health Day 2023, we invite you to read our special guest feature by Dawn Grzena. Dive into the importance of mental health in building resilient teams. Let's strengthen our support systems, break the stigma, and prioritise mental well-being.

🧠 "Awareness is just the beginning."

🧠 "It's time to take action and create lasting change."

🧠 "Together, Let's Make #MentalHealth Matter!"

“Just because you take breaks doesn’t mean you’re broken.” – Curtis Tyrone Jones

Exhaustion. Unfocused. Blah moods. Languishing. Overwhelmed. Anxiety. Anger.

Hey, hey, hey, friends! I think it's time we had 'THAT' discussion. Yes, I know it's been a while since we last gathered to reassess ourselves. I'm not saying we haven't naturally or privately done this, but I am saying it's time we brought it to light and not let it linger in the dark corners of our companies and teams.

Yep, I'm going there. Let's talk about resilience for our teams. I'm not only addressing personal resilience but also opening the conversation about mental health within our resilience teams.

Personal resilience typically varies from person to person; we all naturally possess the tools to handle life's storms when they occur. However, we tend to forget about these tools, and they can become rusty from disuse. When you add to that the fact that several people on our resilience teams are facing personal challenges while also dealing with corporate crises, it becomes evident that providing a safe space for teams to manage their mental well-being is crucial.

Without going into too many details (although those who know me understand I'm transparent and willing to share my stories), I've experienced several major personal crises over the past few years, culminating in the death of my brother, who succumbed after a year-long battle with cancer. During this time, I was leading a global team that dealt with numerous major crises and disasters. As we've witnessed in the world, crises are becoming more intense and occurring more frequently. There were a few weeks when we had to deal with several natural disasters simultaneously. As I reflected on those weeks, I realized that we were all exhausted and quickly heading towards burnout.

I came to realize that as a leader, I was limiting both myself and my team. I also wasn't fully engaged in life with my family and friends. Due to neglecting personal resilience, I was inadvertently showing my team that this was the way to go, which was distressing for my family. I reflected on this for a few days and then came to the realization that this is unacceptable on so many levels. I embarked on what I hope will be a lifelong journey of investigating personal resilience for Crisis Management leaders and responders. The question that arose for me was, 'Who is taking care of the Crisis Management professionals while we are taking care of others?' I'm excited to share what I've learned and my thoughts, not only on personal resilience but also on why acknowledging the need for mental well-being within resilience teams is so important.

I am confident that we've all been there. Whether it's because we work for a 'boss' who believes in micromanaging us and being in every meeting 'just in case you need me,' rather than a leader who empowers you, or if it's due to the loss of a loved one (I'm including pets here!), betrayal, or any challenge that knocks us down – we've all experienced it. Life is, at times, this tackling sport that can quickly lift us up or leave us crumbling and shaking.

For me, it starts in the mind and yet goes so much deeper. We need to address the wholeness of the person and situations. We deal with heavy events that don't always end well. To be resilient within our professions, it is paramount that we also lead the charge and take care of our mental health so that we can support others. Think about being on a plane, and suddenly those oxygen masks come down – put yours on first so you can help others.

First, let's define what we are talking about.

Having strong mental health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is: '...a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to their community.'

On the other hand, 'languishing' is used to describe a state of mental and emotional well-being that falls squarely in the middle between flourishing and depression. This term gained prominence during COVID and has stuck. For most of us, there are no 'normal' stresses of life – I could honestly argue that there are no normal stresses of life, but that's a discussion for later. What's normal to one is not normal to all. Couple that with our line of work in Resilience, and 'normal' quickly gets escorted out the door. Without strong personal resilience, it's tough to weather our storms. And storms are always on the horizon. I, for one, relish these storms because they clear out a lot of garbage within us and force conversations that might not happen otherwise.

So, what are the characteristics of strong personal resilience? Many articles out there discuss this and generally focus on adaptability, self-efficacy, emotional, cognitive, social, physical, and spiritual resilience. I find these aspects valuable; however, there are others I believe need acknowledgement. I've begun to view my personal resilience as a garden that I need to tend to every day. I strive to nurture and feed the aspects I need while weeding out those items that are either no longer needed or cause me stress. When we are stressed, we struggle to support our teams.

  1. The first step here is to 'know thyself,' meaning it's important to know your triggers and how you respond to your teams. What feeds you at the end of the day? What do you need to stay balanced? For me, it's napping with my cat, doing art, walking, or writing. I have also taken up gardening, but the jury is out on whether that is calming for me or not. Figure out WHAT works for you and WHEN you need it before it becomes a crisis. This includes the time you spend managing disruptive events at your company.

  2. Be agile. Each hurricane is different and unpredictable. They can easily peter out – or become the stuff of legends in their torment. Watching, monitoring, and pivoting is important to ensure that you're prepared for the right response.

  3. Gratitude. Didn't expect that one, did you? It has been shown that gratitude towards others increases personal happiness, reduces depression and anxiety, and boosts your mental well- being (according to Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D.). When I feel especially down, I leverage the Thank You Machine from Zendesk and then post it on LinkedIn.

  4. Rest. Napping is good. Sleep is good. Heck, even sitting on the couch with a good book is good. Many of us tend to overschedule ourselves, limiting the opportunity to just be.

  5. Blameless Cultures. Raise your hand if you work in a blameless culture. Yep, that's what I thought. Somehow, mistakes have become the enemy, causing us to hide them rather than be transparent. Serendipity and unexpected outcomes can lead to groundbreaking innovations. In each case, a mistake or unintended result paved the way for the development of something entirely new and valuable. They also highlight the importance of being open to unexpected discoveries and having the curiosity to explore the potential of accidents and failures. What mistakes, you ask? Do a search on penicillin, post-it notes, and the microwave to find out these stories.

  6. Celebrate. We just don't do this enough, or we get weird about it. If there is something to rejoice in, do that quickly and often.

  7. Yourself first. It's essential to tend to yourself first, just like putting on your oxygen mask on an air plane before assisting others.

There are so many more ways to tend to your mental wellbeing and supporting resilience teams. Align with what works for you, don’t do anything that is uncomfortable for you. I say this because when we are not authentic in who we are it shows. Make wellness a part of your strategic and response plans aligning to your company culture.

Resilience enterprise teams are the keepers of calm in the storm, as those impacted look to us to keep the corporate ship moving, resolve the crisis, and then carry on. No pressure, right? This can take a toll on our people, which can have negative effects not only on the work culture but, more importantly, on our people.

Don't forget that we are built for crises – we came into this field and stayed here because we have the right stuff. We are leaders (even without any titles) and lead our teams, including the C-Suite. We are the protectors who bridge teams and companies to meet crisis events with a fierceness that we will not be defeated. We stand at the gates of our companies as disasters lurk in the shadows, staring back with a glare that states,

'Stand & Deliver, Crisis – because NOT TODAY'. You got this!



7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude

Connect with Dawn Grzena on LinkedIn or send her an email:

About Dawn Grzena

Dawn Grzena is the founder of B4TheCrisis and is passionate about all aspects of prepping for storms that disrupt lives – both professional and personal. She is a blogger, writer, and speaker. Her current project is working on Operational Metrics Standardization and digging into the tough conversations in Operational Resilience.


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