Compliance is an undeniably stressful profession. When you combine the typical challenges encountered in the corporate world with the task of managing uncertainty — and then compound this with the all-too frequent issues of limited resources and support — it’s no wonder so many dedicated compliance professionals find themselves dangerously close to burnout.
Then top that all off with a global pandemic that’s added stress to everyone’s lives; it’s a lot. However, I am a passionate believer that, despite an environment that lends itself to stress and anxiety, there is a better way. Today, I’ll share some science-backed tools and strategies we compliance professionals can put in place to develop a game plan for managing stress in our careers and daily lives, helping us achieve well-being.
Understand Your Amazing Brain
Did you know that you can rewire your brain to make you a better learner, more optimistic, more focused, happier, and better able to manage stress? That’s right. Your brain is capable of amazing things, including the ability to change based on your experience. This is called brain plasticity (or neuroplasticity), and it’s possible because your brain continues to create new connections — and even new neurons — throughout your life.
Of course, you’ll need to be intentional about helping your brain make these new connections and forge better, healthier pathways. While it’s not going to happen instantaneously, there are small steps you can begin taking today to get started.
Check Your Mindset
So much of what we feel is about our mindset. It sounds simple, but by choosing to keep an optimistic outlook, you’re teaching your brain to be more positive. It can be challenging to stay positive, but in doing so, you’ll begin to build new, better paths for your brain to choose when you do encounter something stressful.
You can start by:
- Embracing challenges instead of treating them as inherently negative events
- Praising people for their hard work and effort rather than lauding them for their intelligence
- Taking setbacks in stride, looking for learning opportunities
- Supporting people’s efforts to improve and providing opportunities for them (and you) to grow rather than telling them (or yourself) that something “just isn’t a strength”
For instance, look for opportunities to praise people who want to learn and improve. These are the same folks who some people may think ask too many questions or move too slowly. However, we’ve all had challenges that we’ve had to overcome. Think of someone who encouraged you to grow and how it made you feel when they recognized and even praised you for your efforts. Use this as a model for your future self to become the voice of positivity for growth-focused individuals.
Another great way to encourage people to adopt a growth mindset is to inspire them. You can do this by telling stories of change and sharing inspirational quotes or insights in your training and communications materials. In this way, you can help foster a growth mindset for yourself and within your organization.
Strive for Mindfulness
Mindfulness isn’t just a buzzword or a trend. In fact, the idea of bringing a mindful approach to what we do dates back thousands of years. But what does it really mean to be mindful? Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, without judgment, writes Jon Kabat-Zinn in his 2013 book “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.”
Mindfulness is not religious or tied to any religion, and it doesn’t require that you stop thinking or feeling. You’re still a person, not a robot programmed to be an eternal optimist. Mindfulness is a practice, not a skill or talent. This means you must continue to exercise your mindfulness muscles regularly. There are many ways you can implement mindfulness into your daily life, including:
- Doing more of your favorite “flow” activity, which is also known as being “in the zone.” While you’re in a flow, you feel full of energy and focus, and you’re really involved and enjoy the process. This is a great step to start understanding what it feels like to be mindful.
- Implementing a daily five-minute meditation practice. Many people are intimidated by the idea of meditation, but it’s not complicated or scary. All you need is a comfortable place to sit or lie, your breath and a timer. Start by focusing on your breathing, taking deep breaths from your diaphragm and experiencing the sensation of air flowing through your body.
- Trying sensory grounding, particularly if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. With sensory grounding, you can perform a sort of body scan focus on what you’re experience through your senses: sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste.
- Giving yoga a try. Yoga is a great way to begin feeling the connection of your mind and body. It’s about awareness, not flexibility, so don’t worry if you can’t do a bunch of complicated positions or moves. Even five minutes a day of yoga can help rewire your brain in a peaceful way.
- Savoring your favorite daily rituals. Maybe it’s your morning cup of coffee or tea, walking your dog or even watching your favorite TV show (yes, I absolutely believe you can be mindful while watching TV). Whatever it is, take the time to be mindful and notice how it makes you feel.
You can also introduce the idea of mindfulness to your team with mindful meetings. These meetings should be intentionally short (which results in improved productivity) free of all outside technology. These meetings are often most successful when paired with an activity like walking.
Another great way to encourage a more mindful approach for yourself and in your team is to do something I call creating space. Don’t send rapid-fire emails; instead, take the time to read and absorb what you’re seeing. That may mean not responding immediately and allowing yourself the room to be mindful. One more great way to create space is blocking time during your day to focus on one thing. Multitasking is a myth and actually impedes your productivity.
Did you know that practicing gratitude is literally good for you? Aside from increasing your happiness, being grateful has been shown to reduces envy and resentment, improve self-esteem, reduce depression, combat post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and improve resilience? What’s more, people who practice gratitude tend to be healthier than those who do not. But the benefits also extend beyond physical. Being grateful helps you build and maintain relationships, rewires your brain to be more sensitive and empathetic and even makes it less likely that you’ll retaliate — even when you get negative feedback.
Like anything worth doing, practicing gratitude takes some effort, but it doesn’t have to be arduous. Mindfulness is key. Think about the people or things you’re grateful for, cast your mind back to old memories and consider the many things you have to look forward to.
Keeping a gratitude journal is one great way to incorporate gratitude into your daily routine. Even writing down one thing you’re grateful for every day will start to form new gratitude paths for your brain. Another easy tool to implement is to share something you’re grateful for when asked how you are, instead of the very common response of “busy” or “stressed.”
Go on a Happiness Vacation
While much of the world is opening back up to travel, you don’t actually need to go anywhere to go on a happiness vacation and incorporate some of the traditions people in other parts of the world use to become happier and more grateful.
In India, the practice of laughter yoga originates from Dr. Madan Kataria’s 1995 article titled “Laughter — the Best Medicine,” which discussed the health benefits of laughing. Kataria created a practice that combined breathing with forced laughter, as laughter has been shown to reduce stress, boost the immune system, fight depression and anxiety and increase happiness.
You can find ways to laugh in your daily life by:
- Trying a laughter yoga class
- Giving improv comedy a go or checking out a comedy show
- Watching a funny show or movie
- Spending time with your hilarious friends
The Japanese practice shinrin yoku means “forest bathing.” It’s a preventive health care method based on the belief that there are significant health benefits from living in the forest, including clearer intuition, increased flow of energy, deepening of friendships and higher levels of happiness. In Norwegian, friluftsliv translates to “open-air living.” The word refers to our relationship with nature, suggesting that exploration and appreciation of nature will lead to greater happiness.
You can incorporate these practices into your daily life by getting outdoors. Consider:
- Taking a walk
- Planning a picnic in the woods
- Going camping
- Starting a garden
Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice because of its unique mix of glaciers and volcanic activity. The geothermal energy creates natural hot springs, which may offer anti-aging properties, decrease pain, clear the skin, and increase endorphins and blood circulation. The concept of hygge is also strong in Iceland. This Nordic word essentially translates to finding immense pleasure in comfortable, cozy, enjoyable and soothing things — or the absence of all things overwhelming.
Ubuntu is a philosophy of life in Nigeria. It literally translates to “so much,” or “I am because we are.” This is a gesture of appreciation for others and essentially means we are all part of the same family. This sense of community manifests itself as kindness, caring and compassion toward others. At its core, ubuntu highlights the traits of sharing, fairness, hospitality, caring and honesty in the community.
You can practice ubuntu through generosity and kindness. Make it your goal to focus on interacting with others with care, supporting those in your life who need you and allowing yourself to be supported by friends and family.
Finally, in Turkey, keyif is an essence that can come from a fun party, a religious ceremony, a peaceful evening boat cruise or an amazing meal. It is the art of quiet relaxation or living in the moment. You can practice keyif by watching the sun set, feeding birds, dining with friends, listening to music — pretty much anything that fills you with serenity or happiness.
- Compliance may be a stressful profession, but you can rewire your brain to create new connections and be happier and more effective.
- By choosing to keep an optimistic outlook, you’re teaching your brain (and your colleagues) to be more positive and less stressed.
- Through mindfulness, you can bring your attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, a great tool to help you and your team combat stress.
- Practicing gratitude is good for your health and your relationships.
- You can incorporate other culture’s happiness practices without setting foot on a plane or even leaving your backyard.