by Cassie Wever
In the first blog post exploring the topic of resilience in Student Affairs (SA), we discussed the basic neuroscience behind resilience and alluded to strategies that can help increase one’s resilience in the face of day-to-day challenges as well as larger traumatic events.
In these next posts, we’ll begin to explore resilience strategies that you can integrate into life as an SA professional. We will discuss how particular strategies increase resilience, and offer suggestions for how to incorporate these strategies into your own individual wellbeing practices, as well as into supervision of staff and students. By the end of this blog series, you will be exposed to a wide range of tools – thoughts, behaviours, and actions – that have the potential to increase your personal resilience and the resilience of your colleagues.
Many of these strategies are taken from the book “Micro-resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy” by Bonnie St. John and Allen P. Haines. The authors discuss research indicating that the smaller micro-behaviours that help athletes to reset and relax “between points” in a sporting match are incredibly important to an athlete’s ability to recover from setbacks. Similarly, the micro-behaviours we engage in every day can either contribute to or detract from our own abilities to bounce back from daily challenges. While there are macro-strategies that help us recover from major life traumas or achieve wellbeing on a larger scale (e.g. exercise, a healthy diet, therapy), incorporating micro-resilience strategies is even more important for our daily quality of life. Fortunately, many of these strategies are extremely easy to incorporate into work in SA. All of the strategies I share have been utilized with success by myself or my colleagues.
Why is it important to incorporate resilience strategies into your work in SA? From my perspective, we have a responsibility to ourselves and students to learn to work in ways that promote wellbeing. Consider the following:
1) There is a large negative impact of unhealthy people on the healthcare system;
2) There is a great deal of research that dubs sitting as “the new smoking” contributing to long term poor health outcomes;
3) Employees “waste” a great deal of time at work that could be put to better use; and
4) Most of us spend nearly one third of our lives at our jobs!
Given these factors, it makes sense that we work in ways that are health-promoting, not diminishing, and that make us more energized and productive in the long term. We also model these behaviours for our students. Wellbeing is often approached as something that employees should do “on their own time” rather than as an integrated aspect of workplace culture. I suggest that we can tweak our habits in the workplace to result in healthier ways of working and being which will ultimately positively impact our workplace culture and the resilience of everyone connected to it, from staff to students.
Here are two suggested strategies that you can immediately begin to incorporate into your work. The next two blog posts will share even more strategies!
Meditate at meetings: You’ve probably heard research about the benefits of meditation. Maybe you even think to yourself, “I really should meditate more.” And then you don’t. The science behind meditation is compelling – but how can you incorporate it into your work day? I begin every student meeting with a five-minute guided meditation, usually found on YouTube, and I use different techniques and styles to help students find what works for them. I find that this practice brings all meeting participants into the room and results in a more effective meeting, and it exposes my students (and myself!) to tools that can be used to manage stress. If a student is chairing the meeting, I ask them to find a meditation they would like to share. We discuss why we meditate and take some time to reflect on which meditations work best for us and why. If you’re new to meditation, I suggest that you start with this “Meditation for Beginners” with Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg.
Walking meetings: We all know that exercise is an essential component of a healthy life, but often exercise is set aside during particularly hectic times. Research now shows that less than 60 minutes of submaximal exercise will increase your cognitive functioning immediately, with the benefits persisting long after the exercise stops1. Working in offices, it is often difficult to squeeze in a walk. To address this, I have made all one-on-one check-ins with my students mandatory walking meetings (unless there are extenuating circumstances or inclement weather*). This benefits both the students I supervise – they are excited to go for walks rather than sit for a coffee or in my office – and myself.
I also find that it improves the quality of our relationship with students being much more likely to share deeper thoughts and feelings comfortably. Once I began booking walking meetings with students, I also started booking them with the occasional staff member. Now that word has gotten around, I find that other staff book walking meetings with me much more often than sitting meetings – and the positive impact on my day, my mood, my productivity, and my sense of wellbeing on the days when I have walking meetings is quite profound. Walking meetings are one of the simplest and most impactful strategies I have found to increase my own and others’ resilience at work.
I challenge you to try these two strategies throughout the month of October and notice what impact meditating at a meeting or going for a walk with a student or staff member has on your own sense of wellbeing and your resilience. What challenges do you face in incorporating these strategies, and how can they be overcome? Here are some tips: keep a pair of running shoes in your office; time several walking routes so you can plan for a 20-minute check-in versus a one hour meeting; commit to including meditation at a certain number of meetings and note how it impacts the meeting; etc.
- St. John and Haines, 2017. Micro-resilience: Minor shifts for major boosts in focus, drive, and energy. Hachette Book Group: New York, NY.
*Editorial Note: Patty Hambler of the SA-exchange editorial board notes that walking meetings can be problematic if someone has a health condition they do not want to disclose. She suggests framing walking meetings as an option rather than mandatory. An in depth look at the various considerations of walking meetings would make a great article for SA-exchange – would you like to write it?