How we could deal with changing situations
The current situation forces a lot of people, companies and other organizations to change their work processes, tools, collaboration models, and the mindset. Home-office and mostly virtual contacts not only affect the work situation, but also the mental conditions. I had the opportunity to talk to a mental and somatic coach who is dealing with all these aspects in her daily professional life:
Please introduce yourself and tell us why the current situation is a challenge for you and how you approach it.
My name is Ariane Füchtner and I am a multi-preneur. For the last 15 years I have been a freelance PR and marketing consultant in the IT industry, which is how we met. In this area I work exclusively for US companies from Silicon Valley, currently for Cloud Foundry Foundation. Before that I have consulted e.g. SugarCRM, Netskope or Mirantis in DACH.
Parallel to my PR work, I have built up my second main pillar of training, coaching and therapy over the last five years and am now an alternative practitioner for psychotherapy, expert for individual and organizational resilience (after Gabriele Ella Amann/Resilienzforum Akademie Berlin) and Somatic Experiencing (SE) Practitioner. This is a holistic, resource- and body-oriented method for resolving chronic and traumatic stress, developed by the biologist and psychologist Dr. Peter Levine. SE has personally helped me a lot in an existential crisis.
Actually, I wanted to give up PR work at the beginning of 2020, but the Corona crisis has thrown all plans into confusion …
Since I come from the IT industry, the current challenges are less technical than human and financial. At the beginning of the crisis many clients dropped out or did not want to switch to online. All face-to-face trainings were cancelled until summer. After the initial rigor of shock, more and more clients are now coming back and are getting involved in online coaching sessions with a focus on resilience and agility. Companies are also responding because they realize that they need to do something for their employees who are constantly stressed and struggling with uncertainty. The crisis does not leave any of us unaffected. Unfortunately, many freelancers and artists have disappeared completely.
Some of your clients may not be able to engage in virtual coaching as well. Others do. What experiences have you had in individual coaching and how do you bring the physical aspect into it?
In the meantime, most clients have become well acquainted with the new format and are amazed at how well it works. It enables about 80-90% of the experience that the physical encounter provides.
There are a few things to ensure – such as a good online connection on both sides, good sound and sufficient lighting so I can see and hear the person properly. Also, the client should be in a place where he/she feels safe and is not disturbed.
At the moment we have to consider what is actually happening to us in the Corona crisis. In a situation perceived as threatening and overwhelming with an invisible enemy, our autonomous nervous system switches to survival mode and goes into fight, flight or freeze mode. In survival mode, our gaze focuses only on the threat and our prefrontal cortex – responsible for controlling our actions or solving problems – is slowly brought to a standstill. Reactivity replaces deliberate action. People with pre-conditions of stress or trauma remain in the inner shutdown longer than those with a regulated nervous system.
The body-oriented approach does not aim to change the body, but rather to track and trace body sensations and impulses, emotions, inner images, thoughts and beliefs in order to help people get out of the stress cycle and support them on their way to greater health, well-being and vitality. The aim is to “thaw” the energy frozen in the nervous system in small doses and to discharge it gradually.
Doing this work online means that I have to ask more precise questions and listen more closely, as I can only see the head and torso of the person opposite me. And to avoid zoom-fatigue, I simply plan longer breaks for myself and fewer clients per day.
But most clients experience online coaching better than expected.
So, you are making good experiences now?
Definitely, although I look forward to meeting clients again in my practice room soon.
But what is still missing?
The physical proximity and physical contact. Physical proximity supports the so-called co-regulation, the regulation or readjustment of one’s own nervous system with the help of another person’s nervous system. We are human herd animals – we need and seek physical closeness with each other. My work sometimes involves light touching. Unfortunately, this can’t happen now. We know from attachment research that one hug is enough to lower the stress hormone cortisol. In return, the binding hormone oxytocin is released.
Fortunately, I am currently learning a lot from my colleagues in the USA about how to modify interventions online so that they have a similar effect.
In this context I am also experimenting with new formats and offers. I started 5 weeks ago to offer weekly free webinars in German and English on the topic “Resilience and Self-Regulation”. On the one hand, to provide people with tools suitable for everyday life, how they can get out of the stress cycle of the fight-, escape- and freeze response and remain capable of acting. On the other hand, I wanted to know how body-oriented work can be transferred online to groups – I wanted to get to know the format and make the most of it. I have learned a tremendous amount in the last few weeks and I am very happy about the matter-of-factness with which I now moderate groups online. Even though it is certainly more strenuous than when everyone is physically in one room.
For many participants it is reassuring to know that the feelings or physical reactions they are experiencing during a crisis are “normal” and that they are not the only ones. The exchange and joint experience of resource-oriented exercises strengthens personal resilience and agility as well as that of the community.
That means you’re just expanding your range. Do you want to continue these offerings after the crisis?
Yes, right. On the one hand, I continue to offer two free webinars per month and, from May, a 6-week online training course to promote resilience and self-regulation.
On the other hand, I am currently advising companies on how both the individual resilience of employees and the organizational resilience of companies can be strengthened in the long term in order to develop the agility required in today’s complex VUCA world.
Resilience is not a “nice-to-have”, but rather the ability to remain capable of acting in the face of unexpected challenges, crises and in phases of high stress.
Resilient employees have a good starting position for agile work structures, just as agility can support and increase organizational resilience. And the great thing is that you can learn resilience.
If you also include this way of working in your offer, you will also become interesting for clients who do not live near you or if one of your clients has to move, you can continue the work with him. Especially people who work in the IT sector are often on the road.
The former paradigm that online coaching only takes place when someone is away on business or at home because of sick children no longer applies.
For some, online coaching offers the advantage of being able to work from a protected room at home, for others it would be better if they could come to a protected neutral room – without children, spouse or boss nearby. That’s why I usually find it better if coaching takes place not in the company but in my own office.
I assume that our way of working will change radically as a result of the crisis – we will check more closely whether it is worthwhile to drive through the republic for a one-hour meeting and whether previous training and coaching formats should not be revised. Blended learning concepts will certainly increase.
When all technical tools are available again, I will definitely upgrade my technical park to experiment with videos and podcasts next.
You mentioned group offers for companies. What exactly do you offer?
Currently, companies are asking for support in crisis management and crisis processing. On the one hand, I provide theory around the concept of resilience, central findings from applied resilience research and neurophysiological basics about stress. However, the focus of the online training courses is on imparting practical and everyday skills for employees – it is about strengthening resources, self-regulation, attentiveness and agility. Therefore, there are many interactive and practical exercises for the eight learning and competence fields of the Resilience Circle, including many perception exercises. I can only change what I perceive.
The ability to be positive about change and to consciously go through the different phases of the change process cannot be decreed from above. In the past, change processes in companies have often been pushed through without taking the employees with them. They react with uncertainty, fear, sadness, open or hidden resistance, they feel overwhelmed. This is what is happening now – this time due to a pandemic.
First, people were sent from one day to the next to their home office, often without properly functioning technology, now the coffee kitchen or the canteen are missing for the exchange. Then they were sent on short-time work, and in a few weeks, everyone is supposed to return to their offices. And the summer holiday is in the stars. As an entrepreneur or manager, it should be clear to me that when employees and managers are collectively caught up in fear and inner shutdown, not only does immediate productivity suffer, but they are not in a position to question unproductive routines in order to develop new habits of thinking and behavior and creative solutions to overcome the current crisis, both in the short and long term.
I would also like companies to understand resilience as crisis prevention and containment and to bring us resilience experts on board not only as firefighters, but as partners for long-term and sustainable concepts to improve agility in the company.
Since the situation remains uncertain at the moment, we unfortunately cannot yet assess what this will do to us.
I don’t have an answer either. And it’s presumptuous of anyone to claim to have an answer.
The greatest challenge for us humans is surely to endure uncertainty.
On the one hand, orientation and security are vital for us humans and if this is missing, it creates permanent stress with all its negative consequences. On the other hand, I can learn to understand and accept uncertainty as a natural part of life. If I am in contact with myself, in the here and now, and not constantly in the future or in the past, if I can read the signals of my body correctly and work with it and not against it, then I can learn to deal with current challenges better and more creatively.
Instead of relying exclusively on external securities, I learn to build up inner stability and safety. A confidence that helps me to take the next necessary steps prudently instead of being driven solely by uncertainty.
Therefore, it is important to get out of the stress cycle and survival mode again and again, to allow my nervous system to regulate itself – i.e. either to deactivate and regenerate. Or out of the inner shutdown and into activity.