Maintaining resilience and staying mentally fit in public service

By Stuart Taylor

Tuesday April 21, 2020


In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s unsurprising that there’s a heightened risk of anxiety within the workforce as we collectively face the biggest challenge many of us have or will ever experience in our lifetime. And the challenge is heightened for those who work in the public service as many Australians look to those in the public sector for guidance and support while we navigate this unchartered territory.

As the situation evolves rapidly day by day, public servants are expected to be one step ahead. In the face of such unpredictability, mass change and heightened pressure, being resilient has never been more important.

READ MORE: Who will be the winners in a post-pandemic economy?

With that said, it’s worthwhile understanding where we stood in the first place. In Springfox’s latest Global Resilience Report, we surveyed over 1,700 Australian workers and found that 40% of the Australian workforce were already exhibiting low levels of resilience in the last year, with 79% stating that they lacked the endurance and flexibility required to navigate change.

While little can be done to change the gravity of the situation, resilience is the anchor that helps us to stay calm, think clearly, and be effective and adaptive. More than that, resilience is imperative to maintaining our mental fitness, and avoiding burnout.

Promisingly, more than five decades of research point to the fact that resilience is built by incremental behaviours, attitudes and social supports that can be adopted and practiced by anyone.

Cultivate compassion

It’s important to adopt compassion towards yourself and the people around you, whether that’s an elderly neighbour, staff member, or family member. By focusing on extending your care to others, in a capacity beyond your professional duty, you are able to look beyond the situation to see the bigger picture. In doing so, you prevent yourself from ruminating and going on a downward spiral.

Avoid over-caring

Whilst compassion is an important factor in maintaining perspective (essential to combatting anxiety), equally, one of the biggest drivers of stress and burnout amongst public facing professions is ‘over-caring’ about the needs, opinions or behaviours of others. While caring about others is an important characteristic of someone in the public sector, it’s important not to take personal ownership for public discourse or feelings that others may have toward a decision or action. Resilience helps us to understand the emotions of stakeholders without owning the emotion. By learning your personal emotional cues to identify negative behaviours, you will be able to shift your attitude and cultivate constructive responses, rather than letting the pressure sit heavily on your shoulders with no reprieve.

Aim for realistic optimism

Realistic optimism is where your thoughts lead to a solution. This means when you’re thinking “Today is a huge challenge, and I don’t think it will get any better from here,” catch yourself and reframe that to: “Today is a challenge, but it will get better from here.” Being mentally fit is being mindful and disciplined enough to catch, check and change your negative thoughts into realistically optimistic ones.

Stay connected

Maintaining positive interpersonal relationships is critical for building resilience and fighting off burnout. Having someone to talk to or spend time with is an effective way to get your mind off work and provides a necessary dose of comfort, security and perspective during stressful times. Add to this, workplace stress can easily lead to irritability and create unhappiness in your personal life, subsequently affecting your personal relationships. Counteract this by making an effort to be fully present where there’s an opportunity to spend time with family, or building spaces to maintain your relationships with friends.

Self-care isn’t just for the day spa

In stressful times it’s easy to let self-care fall by the wayside, but in reality, it’s times like these when it’s actually the most important.

Resilience and mental fitness go hand in hand with being mentally healthy. As such, exercise is the best thing we can do to reduce anxiety and should be a non-negotiable in your daily routine. On any given day, our report shows that 62% of workers don’t get sufficient exercise, and no doubt this is all but increased during isolation requirements.

Even as little as five minutes of daily exercise can reduce the levels of cortisol in our system and increase serotonin – helping to reduce stress levels and clear the mind. To add to this, ensure that you’re eating a healthy, nourishing diet, and most importantly, are maintaining a good sleep routine.

The pressure of working in public service can often be very high, and more so in a global crisis, but it’s not too late to invest in practicing resilient habits to help you better master stress, stay mentally fit, and avoid burnout in a time you need to be your sharpest.  Ultimately, resilience is a choice. You can choose to be overwhelmed and distressed or you can choose to invest in your resilience, to help you to maintain high performance, and have a meaningful impact in your service to the public.

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