Depending on which study you cite, the average human can sustain about a month of constant pressure before coping skills begin to break down. The symptoms include everything from ineffective decision making to the inability to fight off illness due to a compromised immune system. Healthcare professionals reference the term “neuropsychoimmunology” which basically means prolonged stress makes you sick.
We make our best decisions when calm. University of Pennsylvania psychologists note the importance of time (the challenge is temporary), scope (it doesn’t affect everything) and blame (there are factors beyond our control) in supporting resilience. Harvard University’s Mind-Body Institute teaches the 4-7-8 Breathing technique (inhale into your diaphragm for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, exhale slowly for 8 seconds) to quickly restore mindfulness when stressed. Smartphone apps like Calm and Headspace can teach you how to meditate in ten minutes.
When you coalesce a group of stressed people onto a team, each teammate’s wellness and coping ability affects everyone else. It only takes one teammate in a downward spiral to derail a project. So, beyond encouraging everyone to stay mentally and physically healthy, there are shared responsibilities that everyone assumes by accepting membership on a team. Staying committed to these basic anchors helps minimize the risk of toxic or dysfunctional words or actions when the team is suffering.
- Reclarify team values. Treat them as a consensus code-of-conduct.
- Commit to mature and productive conflict resolution. Use dialogue instead of attacking or withdrawing.
- Make respect non-negotiable. Fix what’s broken if someone slips.
- Boost accountability. Don’t let slippage become normalized and excused.
- Innovate. Exploration and discovery are energizing paths to solving problems.
- Refuel and restore. Our emotional bank accounts need deposits to counterbalance withdrawals.
- Embrace the energizing nature of change. As soon as possible, follow the “this sucks” stage with a “what are we going to do about it” stage.
Play the “unfortunately/fortunately” game. When the description of your circumstances begins with, “Unfortunately…,” restate the sentence with the word “Fortunately.” So, rather than saying, “Unfortunately, my speaking engagements scheduled in large auditoriums with hundreds of people were cancelled due to the pandemic,” I’ll say, “Fortunately, the gap in my schedule resulting from cancelled speeches enabled me to author my next book and launch my new telehealth consulting project.” Team wellness goes beyond good chemistry and healthy group dynamics. It also rests on every teammate’s commitment to managing stress like an adult. On teams, when one suffers, we all suffer. Fortunately, when one thrives, we all thrive.