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Disasters And Digital News: 5 Ways To Cope At Work

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. We will forever fondly remember her humor, warmth and wisdom.)

(Origianl Editor’s Note: With the D.C. Navy shipyard shootings, and the recent anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we’re reminded of the stressful effects that 24×7 news cycles can have on employee wellbeing. Here’s timeless advice from a stress management expert.)

This past spring brought a trifecta of tragic news to our nation — arguably throwing a painful monkey wrench of digital disruption into everyone’s work-life merge. Whether it was the Boston Marathon bombings, the devastating Midwest floods, or the fertilizer plant explosion that flattened the town of West, Texas, many of us were alerted to these events within minutes, and had to cope with the news while at work.

Chances are, no matter what headline appeared on your digital device or computer monitor, it had an impact on your emotional well-being — perhaps even eliciting a visceral response. This real-time digital disruption has now reared its head as the latest workplace stressor that both employees and employers must contend with. It’s one example of what I call “The Technology Paradox.”

What do I mean by paradox? It’s simple. The same technology that helps us keep in touch with family members, communicate with business colleagues, and stay on top of work projects also can deliver an instant punch to the gut in the form of disturbing news. It acts as an assault to the nervous system, creating tension that can diminish work performance.

Bad News And The Mind/Body Connection

Think back for a moment. How did you feel when you heard last spring’s harrowing headlines? Did you experience a mix of sadness, fear and concern? Perhaps your heart raced, your blood pressure spiked or you became short of breath. After-the-fact, putting a lot of energy into thinking about those events can also cause stress and anxiety that linger as ongoing tension.

Even a quick jolt of disturbing news can elicit an intense “fight-or-flight” response that releases adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream. An unexpected breaking news event can rapidly trigger a stress response in the minds and emotions of people throughout an organization. Although humans are fairly resilient, and the stress response typically subsides within an hour, long-term consequences can develop. For example, studies show that elevated and chronic levels of cortisol can interfere with learning, memory, concentration, the immune system, digestion and metabolism.

So, what does this mean for a workforce that is “always on” in an era of 24×7 global news access? In a today’s competitive, social workplace, where computers and personal devices are ubiquitous, responding to breaking news requires awareness and guidelines that are beneficial to the rank and file. Even as recently as a decade ago, things were different. News traveled fast, but not in the “real time” marketplace that now exists. It’s wise for business managers to take this new workplace stressor into consideration. What to do?

5 Ways To Reduce Stress In The Face Of Breaking News

1) Acknowledge the event: Ignoring traumatic news only keeps feelings bottled up — or forces discussion to go underground. Quick, open acknowledgement provides a foundation for others to express an appropriate level of human concern.

2) Talking about it is OK: Continuous online and offline “water-cooler” discussions will naturally occur in the wake of catastrophic events. That’s human nature. Sharing opinions or feelings can be helpful. However, it’s important not to allow yourself, your team or your colleagues to become consumed by conversations that relive the events.

3) Be sensitive to coworkers: You may not know if a coworker is personally affected by the tragedy. Be thoughtful about how you speak about the event, and with whom.

4) Limit information intake: You may be tempted to follow a story closely after the initial news breaks. However, constantly checking on the latest developments wastes time, and can keep you locked in a vicious cycle of needless stress. If your work decisions or immediate personal life aren’t affected by having access to continuous coverage, then limit your intake — and encourage others to do so, as well.

5) Take time to digest, rest and build resilience: When disaster first strikes, attention spans immediately plummet. Be easy on yourself and co-workers as you regain firm footing. For some, a few moments of breathing, contemplation or a brief walk can go a long way toward processing the event. After the initial shock subsides, engaging in ongoing resilience-building activities can help reduce external sensory stress. Regular meditation, exercise or just listening to calming music can flip your energy and mind to a more grounded view, and away from ongoing drama.

How do you and your organization respond to tragic news in today’s “always on” environment? What ideas do you suggest for others who want to stay aware of news support victims, while remaining focused and productive?

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome. Learn more...)

Image Credit: Pixabay

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