Nurses have offered themselves in service at the front line and shown the strength and courage of soldiers, only to find themselves no longer at war in 2018. Instead they are succumbing to a subtle line of fire of bullying within the workplace from fellow colleagues, patients or management.
According to A Safe Work Australia (2013) report levels of bullying in Australian workplaces are substantially higher than anywhere else in the world. For those that have experienced or seen bullying it is no surprise. How does one of the most fortunate countries in the world, which offers the liberties of freedom of speech, education and our fundamental needs taken care of, also produce the most bullies? We are not fighting for our lives, scavenging for food for our families or chasing away predators to save our children. So why on Earth do our workplaces have the same subtle, yet forceful intimidation tactics fit for any war?
Whether it’s the humiliation of being put down in front of others, excessive scrutiny, unjustified criticism, complaints, constantly changing deadlines, intimidation or the force of power, these subtle jabs are like dangerous swords. Over time they build up stress-forming wounds that can manifest in a myriad of long-term physical, psychological or emotional illnesses. This creates a culture of fear, intimidation and illness (Ekici and Beder 2014).
The Australian Human Rights Commission has estimated that “workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6–$36 billion dollars every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered.” These issues are most visible in terms of emotional exhaustion, psychological distress and depression resulting in lost productivity, increased absenteeism and poor staff morale. Beyond the financial burden on organisations, the far greater burden is the cost to employees and their life experience.
From the fights in the playground to wars in history, these concerns are still very embedded within our society and psyche. This is clear just by looking at the statistics. But is there another way? Is it possible to move beyond the fight by supporting your inner awareness and wellbeing? By changing your ability to respond to what’s deeply rooted in our culture in a way that supports your wellbeing you may just transform the outdated ways of the system.
There is no question that when a bully walks into a room you feel it internally. There is a sense, a tension, an insight- a physical response within you. So, if a bully has the ability to modify your internal state, do you have the ability to modify theirs? With the development of epigenetics, we are able to see the power an environment has on oppressing or activating a gene. With that in mind, the bully is your environment and you are theirs. So, what in your internal environment is contributing to the state of the environment? Is the state you go into in the presence of a bully- the tension in your throat, fire in your belly or weight on your shoulders- serving your wellbeing? In that moment your body goes right into the battlefield of the fight or flight response, when a big hit of cortisol, a shot of adrenaline and the ability to run or hit something is available. But, when the punch won’t work and the run doesn’t make any sense, freezing becomes the reaction. This dis-ease now sits in your body contributing to the growing stress-related illness we see within the culture and system.
So what power do you have to change the old system?
Modify your internal state.
You are the only one that has the power to change your state. No one else has that power. With a little awareness on your body, a little practice of tools that support your central nervous system and a little awareness of triggers that create dis-ease, you have the ability to respond to environmental dysfunction in a way that no longer causes dis-ease within your system. This is like a super power, a super power that could have huge impact on the culture itself.
How do you gain more of this super power? You can develop the ability to regulate your internal state with tools and practices that support self-awareness, self-care and self-regulation. Evolve Yourself Institute’s focus is self-awareness. We believe in developing self-awareness, playing with practices that support self-regulation and empowering individuals to take steps and develop greater skill sets in effective communication. There is a great deal to be said about someone who has the ability to stand in dis-ease and not be affected by it. This is empowered living. Higher brain functioning can be accessed without falling in the rabbit hole of fear and fury while allowing your body to operate at its optimum to think clearly.
5 Frontline Tactics to Develop Your Super Powers for Self-regulation:
- Meditate: Meditation changes your brain. MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to shrink (Taren et al. 2013). This region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is the very trigger for stress response. If the fear modulator isn’t as powerful, you then have the power to decide your response, state and traits. Moving beyond the auto response of fight or flight might support the environment to do the same
- Breathe: Bringing a practice of diaphragmatic breath into your day to day practice trains your body to be calm more often. When you feel stressed a short shallow breath becomes your response and modifies your state. Just by consciously changing your breath you are supporting the ability to change your state through choice. Research into the power of diaphragmatic breath (DB) has shown that this practice can improve sustained attention, affect, and cortisol levels (Ma et al. 2017). If you practice DB when there are no triggers, the power to choose to breathe to your belly and switch off your stress response is available when you notice stress kicking in.
- Nurture yourself: Give yourself the self-care and time to renew and regenerate. Fill up your cup with good food, self-loving and a bit of nature. When you feel good, your toxic environment does not seem to have the same stick. When the body is depleted the smallest of comments can feel like poison, but when your cup is overflowing, the bitter taste washes down unnoticed.
- Hang out with people that hold you high: If you hang out with people that see your value, who hold you in high regard and are appreciative of all that you bring to the world, it’s a reminder of the goodness that does exist. The bullies are a minority. Remembering the goodness is fabulous fuel for any cup.
- Ask yourself often “Does this serve me”: Does this thought serve me? Does this environment serve me? Does this conversation serve me? You choose what rabbit hole of dis-ease you get swallowed up in. But when you really harness the power to choose what feeds you well, you allow wellness to be the power that feeds you.
Today’s workspace might seem overly embedded in the fight or flight fear systems, but like Ronald J Sider said, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something, and together we can change the world.” Being responsible for how our state is in this world might just have influence over its state. It is most certainly something to be curious about.
Editor’s note: EYI facilitates CPD accredited online and face to face programs for nurses and midwives. EYI education delivers practical tools and strategies to develop self-awareness, emotional intelligence and manage stress and anxiety. Visit the EYI website for more information.
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