Happy International Woman’s Day

Firstly, Happy International Woman’s Day to everyone. Whatever your gender is, I believe that International Days are not so much about celebrating one part of humanity above another, but rather about us all taking the time to understand, acknowledge and learn from each other’s similarities, differences, achievements and qualities.

As it is International Women’s Day, I would love to take this opportunity to share a lesser-known fact about female responses to stress that are interesting and useful to all of us.

But first, a few questions to everyone:

  • What was the toughest thing for you in the last year as a response to all that COVID-19 brought with it?
  • What drained your energy?
  • What has been your natural ‘survival strategy’?
  • Reflecting, what was it that resourced and re-energised you?

The lowest energy point for me came quite early on as the calls for help and support started coming in thick and fast. I am going to dare to suggest that, as coaches or supervisors, many of us are only a short step away from ‘Helper Syndrome’ in times of need. I said ‘yes’ to all good-causes and, when the demands of that became too much, created the Inside-Out ACADEMY online coaching platform to support more people in need than was otherwise possible. My need to support and hold a safe space for others came from a response to stress somewhere deep. As an ex-pat far from home and in lockdown, I (like most of us) felt alone and disconnected. I was so busy looking after others that I wasn’t investing any time or energy into taking care of my own support networks and systems.

Here is an interesting fact that sheds some light on what was perhaps going on for me and how we can all learn from it.

Fight or Flight
I am sure that you have heard the phrase ‘fight or flight’ coined by Walter Cannon in the late 1920s and early 1930s, perhaps with the later addition of ‘freeze’ from later research. What might surprise you is that this far-reaching and famous research only included males.

Tend-Befriend
It was 70+ years later that Shelley Taylor and colleagues first considered that, while psychological responses to stress in all genders can be characterised by ‘fight, flight & freeze’ in some way, female responses included crucial additional elements that help us understand not only how females react to threat and stress differently, but also what we all need in order to create and regulate psychological safety in a community. Enter Taylor’s concept of ‘tend and befriend’.

What does ‘tend and befriend’ mean in a nutshell?
Tend means nurturing, calming and quietening to protect ones self and those close to us (originally to calm and quieten babies and small children to keep them safe in dangerous situations).

Befriend is all about the importance of creating and maintaining social support networks (originally, the development of deep attachment-caregiving networks would have increased the level of survival for infants, caregivers and the community as a whole).

How can understanding the concept of ‘tend and befriend’ support us all during these challenging times?
It may be the International Women’s Day, but these responses historically had nothing to do with protecting only the females in a group. These were perhaps female behaviours, but crucially they were for the ultimate well-being and safety of the community as a whole.

Four questions to support yourself and others:

  • How am I tending to myself?
  • How do I resource, calm and nurture myself to be fully energised and there for others?
  • What am I doing to consciously resource, calm and nurture others?
  • Who offers all of this to me and what can I do to show gratitude and sustain that tending and befriending support?

Let us use today to tend and befriend each other, whatever our gender; let’s grow our support networks, maintain our communities, connections and relationships at home and abroad.

Let us spare a thought for those outside of our groups including, ex-pats and singles (including the elderly) who are separated from their community but still with this deep psychological tend and befriend need.

Who can you connect with to support your own psychological safety and who might really be able to use some tending and befriending?

Who is in your tend-befriend posse? Use today to get in touch, acknowledge and appreciate those relationships that nurture you.

Coaches, how are you looking after yourself? This could be a great time to consider a supervision group alongside your 1:1 supervision support.

As you make a conscious effort to consider mutual-support relationships, could it also be time to take a closer look at toxic, draining relationships? We can explore that further in a future blog!

 

Reference:
Taylor, S. E. et al (2000). Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: Tend-and-Befriend, Not Fight-or-Flight, Psychological Review 2000, Vol. 107, No. 3, 411-429
Taylor, S. E. (2006). Tend and Befriend: Biobehavioral Bases of Affiliation Under Stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6), 273-277. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00451.x
Theodore M. Brown, PhD (2002) Am J Public Health. 2002 October; 92(10): 1594–1595
Walter Bradford Cannon
Pioneer Physiologist of Human Emotions
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447286/

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