3 ways to survive, and thrive, in challenging times


More and more people are feeling, and talking about feeling, increasingly threatened: Economic uncertainty, terrorism, decreasing profit margins, political unrest, family breakdown and the addictive power of new technologies are created by and contribute to the rise in personal and social fear related distress. The World Health Organization reports can be read alongside a litany of statistics from around the world that predict stress, burnout and depression to be among the world’s most prevalent diseases by 2020, joining perpetual killers like stroke and diabetes.

Added on 02 May 2017 by

I became interested in the consequences of threat experiences during my research on the Doctorate in Organizational Change at Ashridge. Not only was I working with many leaders and executives who were ‘burning out’ from the frequent experience of imagined and real threats, but also my own life circumstances had become unexpectedly challenging - so much so that I lived, for a while, in an almost permanent state of anxiety. Out of self-interest and a need to survive I began to explore my experience of threat in order to understand and alleviate the personal distress it caused. Later I began to share these insights in my coaching and organizational development practice. Clients were very receptive to the work and told me how relevant, timely and necessary it was to learn how to recognize and manage their own and other people’s reactions to stressful events.

The volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environments that we live in can cause us to feel threatened on a regular basis.  This is not good for us and results in many of us being caught in exhausting, vicious loops of feeling, thought and action that are ineffective and potentially harmful. Research shows that self-compassion can interrupt these loops by triggering powerful neurological activity that soothes and restores emotional equilibrium. There is also growing evidence to show that people who are self-compassionate are more motivated and resilient that those who are not. Self-compassion enhances healthy behaviors including a willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes, greater initiative, and clarity around personal goals and fewer self-handicapping strategies such as procrastination and pessimism.

In this article, I explore how an understanding of ourselves as organisms in the flow of evolutionary life enables us to cultivate self-compassion and tolerance towards our mistakes failings and anxieties. I’ll also share three simple practices that effectively regulate threat, restore emotional equilibrium and offer a starting place for restoring, revitalizing and redirecting our energy.


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Author information 

Dr. Nelisha Wickremasinghe is a senior psychologist working as a consultant within an international network of organizational and leadership development companies, including her own, The Dialogue Space Ltd. Nelisha’s roles have included, senior management in complex private and public sector organizations, non-executive board directorships, founding and selling a profitable restaurant business, leading and sustaining cross-sector communities of practice and advising on complex organizational change projects.

Nelisha also has a global profile as an educator and researcher. Nelisha continued with her research on the Doctorate in Organizational Change at Ashridge in 2010, following the completion of her Masters in Organizational Consulting where she was encouraged to understand management consulting practice from many different perspectives and disciplines. Her decision to deepen her research was motivated by a desire to use new insights from biological and psychological sciences to understand how to sustain personal and group resilience in difficult times. Her thesis; ‘Is that All there is? Self-Compassion and the Imperfect Life’, describes how the cultivation of self-compassion can support organizational clients to develop sustainable and healthy strategies for not just surviving but thriving in complex and challenging environments.


You can learn more about Dr. Wickremasinghe’s work at The Dialogue Space.

Find out more about the Doctorate in Organizational Change.