Interviewed on the NZI Business morning TV programme on Monday, I was asked for my views about how business people can cope with the downturn in the New Zealand economy. Putting recessions into context, the economy is by nature cyclic: after periods of growth, there is a necessary correction. Knowing this in theory doesn’t lessen the impact of suddenly having fewer orders, having to make people redundant, perhaps even having to wind up the business, and what makes the current global change especially demanding is that it is happening very rapidly indeed. In the space of a week during a recent visit to the UK, we saw several thousand jobs go in the construction industry alone.
What makes people particularly distressed is having so little control over what is happening, and in the absence of control over things in the world, people shift to attempting to control them in their minds. This leads to an endless cycle of ruminating about ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’, which is precisely the definition of stress that forms the basis for the Challenge of Change resilience training programme. As we’ve shown with our programme, ruminating about emotional upset has no effect at all on the world – if worry worked, the economy would be thriving again! Unfortunately, it does have a catastrophic effect on individuals, making them and those around them miserable and possibly shortening their lives.
What’s to be done? There are of course steps that can be taken to protect businesses, but in the process the misery inevitably gets spread around: ruminating about where the next job is coming from is no less distressing than seeing your business collapse. We tell people attending the Challenge of Change two things: that no training programme is a road to Damascus, but also that with practice, habitual ways of thinking can be changed.
Putting this into context, at one end of the stress continuum is post-traumatic stress: pressure that is so emotionally demanding that it overrides resilience and leads to a diagnosable disorder requiring treatment. At the other end is day-to-day stress, the sorts of things we have deal with constantly in our daily lives. Post-traumatic stress requires the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, dealing effectively with day-to-day stress is the preventative fence at the top.
The place to start is building or strengthening the fence, and that’s what the Challenge of Change programme is designed to do by providing the adaptive coping skills of being awake and controlling attention, becoming detached and letting go. However, if the emotion becomes too overwhelming, the final step is to seek professional help. That too requires letting go: there are things we can’t control, and there should be no stigma attached to getting professional counselling to help put things back in perspective.