Quarantine. Business closures. Perceived lack of necessities. Leadership is required in tough times, and we are in tough times. In a recent interview on the Be That One Percent podcast with host and UNLV alumnus James Silvas, management professor Payal Sharma discussed resiliency, post-traumatic growth, and how to strengthen leadership in times of adversity.
Sharma is a field researcher who studies power and stress in organizations. Through her work, she seeks to identify how, and where, people have agency and control in their job settings, particularly when challenging situations arise. Silvas, ’11 BS Kinesiology, is a performance coach and motivational speaker.
During the interview, Silvas and Sharma discussed her research and what can be applied to challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Resiliency and post-traumatic growth
Resiliency is the idea that when a person goes through something challenging, they bounce back. The concept of post-traumatic growth is that a person who has experienced trauma bounces forward because everything they believed prior to the traumatic experience no longer makes sense.
Sharma describes the characteristics of a traumatic event in the following three ways:
- It’s extraordinary
- It’s uncontrollable
- It’s overwhelming
Trauma, though, gives us opportunity to pause and think about what we are learning, take a look at the way we have perceived the world, and come up with a new belief system based on what we have learned from the trauma. The new outlook is the result of post-traumatic growth.
“What seems like a catastrophe can be a catalyst for a new way of doing things,” said Sharma. “Post-traumatic growth research is about giving yourself a toolkit because trauma never goes away.”
Growth after trauma
Research shows that an estimated 60 percent of people that go through trauma can embrace and realize post-traumatic growth. There are five categories of growth after trauma:
- Relationships with others: Learning to accept you need others and knowing you can rely on others in times of trouble.
- New possibilities: Developing new interests during this time.
- Personal strength: Realizing you are stronger than you ever knew.
- Spiritual change: Understanding your faith better.
- Appreciation of life: Slowing down to appreciate each day and better understand your individual values.
Finding power when you feel powerless
As part of her research on power dynamics, Sharma has taken a deep look at the experiences of video models in the hip-hop music industry. What she has learned can help anyone who might feel powerless, and help find power over our own lives.
Sharma suggest considering the following questions:
- Where do we have control?
- How can we influence others?
- How can we overcome adversity with the day-to-day choices that we make?
“At the end of the day, we do have agency in our lives. That’s where I think we can focus to stay healthy in mind, body, and spirit,” Sharma said.
Both Sharma and Silvas agree that being clear on values, vision, and preventative practices that help you stay compassionate when managing trauma and feelings of powerlessness are key. Self-awareness and an effort to find stillness will help you stay calm and bridge other people’s fear and anxiety.
“Our country is going to be better when all of us take responsibility for our own actions and do not rely on outside sources to take care of the things that only we can,” Silvas said.
Managing anger, fear, and anxiety
Post-traumatic research shows that we need to express our emotions when we feel anger, fear, and anxiety. Here’s some exercises that can help working through these emotions:
- Write about it
- Talk to an expert companion (therapist, coach, trusted friend)
- Identify and acknowledge these feelings, to come up with a calmer, more logical perspective
- Consider that your own fear can trigger someone else’s fear, or your calmness can create strength for others
Proactive coping is a strategy where you don’t wait for stressors to happen and react, instead you think about what you can do. Even though we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and there are many unanswered questions, this technique can still be used to implement a plan of managing future stress that will be part of this experience for many.
Proactive coping research supports the following behaviors:
- Asking for support
- Trying to take charge of what you can control
- Minimizing impact of stressors before they even happen
“We’re not trying to encourage people to be hyper-vigilant. We can leave that to the Navy SEALS. But certainly, the idea to be ready is helpful, healthy, and protective,” Sharma said.
Sharma and Silvas challenge those facing trauma with a question: What can you do to soothe yourself and be kind to your own needs?
“Trauma repeats it’s self because we need to choose another response,” said Sharma. “I can make a list of all the major losses in my life, I can also make a list of all the major transformations that have happened in my life. It’s because when you go through trauma it’s your gateway, your portal.”
Visit the Be That One Percent podcast to listen to the episode in its entirety. Sharma and Silvas plan to record future episodes to help listeners through this time of uncertainty.