Resilience in Times of Crisis and Calm with Renee Branson
In this episode of On Record PR, we go on the record with Renee Branson, founder and principal of RB Consulting. As a Certified Resilience Coach (CReC), Renee provides clients with immediately usable tools to increase resilience, well-being, and optimism in the workplace. She applies the resilience work she has done as a trauma therapist to lawyers, legal marketers, business professionals, non-profit leaders, and others to help them understand and incorporate resilience in their own professional lives and in the teams they lead.
RB Consulting works with law firms and other organizations to develop mental well-being programs and initiatives. They also conduct workshops, keynotes, and crisis psychological first aid for individuals and teams.
During the conversation, Renee and Gina talked about behavioral health in the workplace, especially in law firms and professional service organizations. They go into detail about:
- The definition of resilience
- The six tenants of resilience
- The differences among crisis, change and challenge
- Grounding and mindfulness
- How to stay emotionally connected when physically distancing and
- Acute stress and trauma (primary and secondary)
Renee also asks Gina how one who handles crisis planning and crisis communications bolsters resilience.
This episode was recorded in the early days of April 2020, at the height of the coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
A bit more about Renee Branson
I started as an educator, a teacher, and then went back and got a master’s degree in counseling psychology. After that, I worked primarily with survivors of different forms of trauma from domestic violence and sex trafficking to war and child abuse. The theme that ran through that was resilience. I noticed that some survivors had an easier time, although it’s never easy, but an easier time in their recovery from trauma. If they had some resiliency skills before their trauma and others who didn’t, it took them a bit longer. I became interested in the traits that make up our resilience. How can we grow it and develop it? And through that, I wanted to see how it could be applied outside of trauma, both in our personal lives, but also in our workspaces. I began working primarily with law firms a few years ago when I met with a lawyer, and he looked across the table at me and said, I want you to know that this profession is killing us.
What makes the legal industry particularly ripe for resilience coaching?
The legal industry has a high amount of churn and burn, and some law firm cultures can be toxic. There are many things that contribute to emotional and mental wear and tear that not only lawyers but everyone in the legal profession, everyone who’s in a firm starts to experience
What do you like about working in the legal industry as a resilience coach?
One of the things that I enjoy is helping people, especially when they don’t believe they need it. I often hear, “I don’t have a mental health challenge or I’m not feeling burned out, so I don’t need the stuff that you’re doing right.” And this, this is a great opportunity for me to identify the perfect time for people to work on and build their resilience so that it doesn’t happen. No matter what, we are all going to have a time in our lives like we’re experiencing right now. Who could have predicted we would be amid a pandemic? We’re all going to be faced with things that are a crisis, change or challenge. And the more that we can build our resilience before that, the better off we’re going to be. We can still do it in the moment though, which is also good, which is what I’m talking a lot with people right now who are saying, okay, here we are during a pandemic. How can I keep, keep my head on straight?
What are you doing with the Legal Marketing Association on the behavioral health front?
There is a new committee that we are launching. It’s the Well-Being Committee through LMA. We have a Well-Being Resource Center that is on the LMA website. It serves to be a place to go for resources. We have resources on mental health as it relates to COVID-19, as well as information on mental health, substance abuse, suicide and suicide reduction strategies. The resource page is open to anyone. It is not behind a paywall.
What is resilience?
When I first started talking about resilience, I would often use the explanation that resilience is the ability to bounce back, that you can bounce back from adversity. The more I talked about and researched it, and had experiences with resilient people, I realized that it’s something a little bit different than that.
Resilience is the ability to bounce forward from crisis, change or challenge. If we bounce back from something, we’re back to where we began. If we’re bouncing forward from something, we experienced that crisis, change or challenge, and we’ve grown from it. We’ve learned from it. We’ve become stronger from it. And that’s the key.
What are the six tenants of resilience?
There are six tenants of resilience that people can build skills around and bolster their resilience.
- Taking care of your health, both mental and physical health. Are we getting enough rest? We can’t be resilient if we are fatigued. Are we feeding our bodies well? Are we getting the kind of exercise that we need? I often say that our bodies are our truth-tellers. We can fake a lot of things and fool a lot of things and sometimes other people, but we can’t fool our bodies. We must pay attention to how our body responds to stress and strain and, and then respond appropriately.
- The ability to calm one’s self, to self-soothe. One of the very first things we learn as humans when we’re infants is to self-soothe by sucking our thumbs or holding a blanket. As we get older, we forget that we still can self-soothe. As adults, we can self-soothe through mindfulness or through breathing techniques that helps our parasympathetic nervous system slow down
- Connection. We are hard wired to connect with others and to be able to be vulnerable and authentic with other people. The more that we can do that, the more our resilience is strengthened because we know we have that support. We often experience stress and strain much more acutely when we feel lonely. But when we feel engaged with other people and feel like we belong with other people, the less suffering we experience.
- Reason. Our ability to think through and problem solve and to be tenacious is a part of resilience. Seeing our adversity in crisis, change or challenge is an opportunity. We must use our brains to reason.
- Values. Having values and holding onto our integrity during crisis, change or challenge is important.
- Grounded optimism. I always tell folks that this is the most challenging one for me because I, as someone who has worked with survivors of trauma, I know that bad things happen for unfair reasons. I realized that I was confusing something. I was confusing optimism with cheerfulness. And those two are not the same thing, but I was thinking of it that way. When I talk to people about how to stay optimistic during something like we’re experiencing now, we need to acknowledge three things: (1) It’s not permanent; (2) It’s not pervasive; and (3) It’s not personal.
What are the differences among crisis, change and challenge?
The coronavirus pandemic certainly qualifies as a crisis. It’s something that is absolutely a negative thing that’s happening to us where we’re experiencing some or multiple kinds of loss and grief. It took us by surprise.
When I think of challenge, I think of something that could be positive or negative. But that because it is challenging to me. Challenge can apply to something new that’s happening that’s causing us to stretch beyond what we’re comfortable with or where our knowledge is. And any time that happens, it creates stress and anxiety. Those challenges require us to dig deeper into our resilience.
Change is something that can be a positive or negative as well. Anytime there’s change, it is hard for us, even when it’s good change. Some of the most stressful times in a person’s life are leading up to a wedding or moving. Change is difficult no matter what. And those are again times where we need to tap into skills of resilience.
How do people get to acceptance to manage anxiety around crisis, change or challenge?
It’s a process that ebbs and flows. Those are the moments I need to get quiet with myself. This is what I do to help myself to work with the present and accepting the present. Before I become reactive, I press pause. I sit with that feeling and not resist it. Don’t try to rush out of whatever that feeling is. If it’s anger, if it’s sorrow, it’s grief, sit with it, acknowledge it. See its purpose. Give honor to the fact that your feelings are valid and we’re self-compassionate around what we’re feeling in the moment. When we can do that, it softens the edges and opens up the corners to allow us to start feeling other things as well. It’s almost counterintuitive that the more that we can say I’m giving myself permission to feel angry, mad, grumpy, the more we can move through it. It’s when we resist it, that we get stuck.
How can people stay emotionally connected while physically distancing?
We connect more emotionally when we’re together even if it’s on FaceTime or Zoom. The more challenging part is where I ask people to be a little bit more vulnerable, Work teams need to build on that emotional connection. One of the things I’ve been talking with some of the team leaders about is to take the time to do that emotional check-in with folks and set parameters around it. I also encourage that team leader, the person who’s leading that meeting, to go first, to make that vulnerable step, to show some transparency, be authentic in the moment.
What is acute stress and trauma?
When we have a situation that creates acute stress or even a step beyond that, where it’s actually very traumatic, the primary trauma is it’s happening to me. That would include everything from a stressful thing of having to homeschool one’s kids or the grief and sadness over not having a commencement ceremony for one’s chile. Then there’s that secondary trauma where we are witnessing and caregiving for people who are experiencing grief and loss, trauma themselves. I can’t think of another time in our history where every single one of us was experiencing both primary and secondary trauma and acute stress.
How do you navigate acute stress and trauma and advocate for yourself?
One of the important things to do is to be aware of boundaries. Know when you need to take a step back to take care of yourself. That might feel selfish but healthy boundaries help us be more generous, more compassionate. If we take time for ourselves and our self-care, when we re-engage, we are our much fresher, less exhausted and, and able to connect.
What is one thing you’d like to tell listeners about becoming more resilient every day of their lives?
The one thing that people can do is to stop and be self-aware. Name and label how you are feeling. Allow it. Give space for it. I also encourage people to practice mindfulness, whether it is traditional meditation, yoga or something else that allows you to take stock of where you are and what you need.
TURNING THE TABLES
Towards the end of the podcast, Renee asked Gina:
How does one who handles crisis communications and crisis planning bolster resilience?
Earlier in our conversation, you talked about the need to learn resilience skills, six tenants before the crisis, change or challenge. We say the same thing in crisis communications or in business communications. Write a strategic plan, have a crisis plan or an incident response plan. I prefer to call them an incident response plan because not everything’s a crisis. Do the training and the tabletop exercises so that when something happens, you’re not in crisis, but you’re in management.
Sometimes, I do have to say, “Let’s take a deep breath. Let’s step back. Let’s reread that.” And I’m saying this to CEOs where the response can be very quickly decided upon by the client that I’m counseling. Whereas I’m reading that same message completely differently. I’m perceiving it differently. And I’m saying, wait a minute, let’s really look at this. Is that what it says? Is that what you really believe we should do?
I also hire resilient people for a reason. We’re in the line of fire. I never imagined that we would have every client in the line of fire at the same time. I will tell you we need to work on our resilience more now than ever because we’re exhausted. We are going nonstop. But on the other side of that, one of those messages that I use in our team meetings is how lucky we are to be able to serve our clients this way now and help them through this. To me, that’s a blessing that we can help. There’s something we can do.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve put most of our energy in what we can do because we can’t be out there on the front lines, that’s not where we’re trained. What we can be doing is providing counsel to our clients and being resourceful to our network. We’re writing content and distributing content that is useful. It’s not opinion based, it’s useful. It’s skills, it’s tactics, it’s this podcast. We’re upping the game to make sure that we have resources like you for our listeners who may need support.
If you’ve enjoyed this episode of On Record PR, please consider giving us a 5-star rating on our Apple Podcast page and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or iHeartRadio.
Connect & Learn More
To learn more about your host, Gina Rubel, click here.
To learn more about On Record PR, click here.
To order a copy of Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers, click here.