Virtual workshops offer resilience training to Penn community

The Division of Human Resources and the Positive Psychology Center are partnering on a series of workshops that will provide resilience training to benefits-eligible Penn faculty and staff.

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The ultra-contagious omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to spread across the country. Hospitals and schools see cases and outbreaks, and everyone is contending with the uncertainty of the seemingly endless pandemic.

In order to help members of the Penn community strengthen their resilience and well-being in these difficult times, Penn’s Division of Human Resources (HR) has partnered with the Positive Psychology Center on a series of virtual workshops that will present core resilience and well-being skills that participants can use in their personal and professional lives to deal with current challenges and stressors.

Starting Feb. 8, and occurring every other week through April 19, the virtual webinars are free and open to benefits-eligible Penn faculty and staff.  

The series is comprised of six virtual workshops, each 60 to 90 minutes in length. Each workshop session focuses on an empirically validated strategy for enhancing a person’s ability to navigate adversity and change, and builds a greater sense of well-being. The workshops include an overview of each skill and how it contributes to resilience and well-being.

“Participating in these sessions will equip faculty and staff with resilience skills to positively impact their work and personal lives, and provide them an opportunity to make connections with others in the Penn community,” says Karen Kille, senior work-life consultant at HR. “It will also show you how to tap into your inner strengths to further develop resilience skills so that you and those around you can grow and thrive in the face of challenges.”

Kille says the workshops are also beneficial for faculty and staff who want to enhance their resilience skills to be well positioned to face challenges and continue to adapt to change, as well as respond to the needs of their students, coworkers, children, family members, and others around them.

“The ability to adapt to change and grow through uncertainty is essential for us to sustain positive personal well-being, and for our work teams and Penn community members to thrive,” she says.

Faculty and staff can register for the full six session course and earn 1,800 Be in the Know points. Or, participants can register for one or more and earn 100 Be in the Know points for each session.

Karen Reivich, director of Resilience and Positive Psychology Training Programs at the Positive Psychology Center, will lead each session with an overview of the skill and how it contributes to resilience and well-being. Attendees will then participate in small group practical exercises in which they will practice the skill with their peers.

“Participants will be in either pairs or groups of four or five, where they’ll have the opportunity to discuss what we just talked about, try out the skill, and share ways to implement these strategies at work and at home,” Reivich says. “I think people value having the hands-on time to practice the tools, and also to have the opportunity to get to know each other and to talk about things that sometimes we don’t carve out time at work to talk about.”

In addition to reinforcing the use of resilience skills, the format of the program will provide attendees with the opportunity to learn more about each other and to support each other. The webinars are an evidence-based training program that has been demonstrated to build resilience, well-being, and optimism.

“When people practice these techniques, research shows that they report reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as a greater sense of hope, optimism, and well-being,” Reivich says. “The skills we focus on have been shown to help people see improvements in areas that matter, like mental health, physical health, performance, and relationships. These are skills that affect us in powerful ways, in many different domains of our lives.”

The first workshop, at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 8, is “Resilience and Learned Optimism,” which will discuss the science of resilience and well-being, and teach practical skills to enhance the ability to navigate adversity and grow through challenges.

“COVID-19 and the long-lasting effects of the pandemic have really put my own resilience skills to the test,” Kille says. “Participating in this workshop in fall 2020 provided me with practical skills to better manage shifting work priorities, our children, and my own-well-being.”

The Feb. 8 workshop will also explore six strategies that create a mindset of optimism. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore what they learn through an interactive breakout session.

“The first workshop is to help people understand what resilience is and the skills we use to navigate adversity.” Reivich says. “We’ll also debunk some of the misconceptions about resilience. And then we do our first deep dive into what I think of as ‘the greatest hits of resilience and well-being,’ and that’s optimism.”

The second virtual webinar takes place on Feb. 22. “Avoid Thinking Traps” will explore counterproductive patterns of thinking that undercut resilience and make it difficult to maintain an optimistic mindset.

“Thinking traps are patterns in our thinking that develop over time that get in our way of handling stress and challenge effectively,” Reivich explains. “They are things such as mind-reading, where I assume I know what you are thinking about me without checking it out. Or catastrophizing, where our mind becomes a runaway train of doom, which leads to unhelpful levels of anxiety. We’ll go through six common thinking traps and discuss strategies to avoid them.”

On March 8, the “Real-time Resilience” workshop will teach a skill to stop counterproductive thinking in the moment, enabling greater focus and confidence. Attendees will learn strategies that challenge counterproductive thoughts and how to use each strategy most effectively.

The fourth workshop called, “IDEAL Model for Difficult Conversations” takes place on March 22 and explores different types of difficult conversations, and the emotions and beliefs that make these conversations difficult to have.

“IDEAL Model is a framework that we use the acronym which stands for: identify, describe, express, ask, and list,” Reivich says. “That framework helps to guide us in having conversations that feel difficult, and helps us engage with each other in ways that create a greater sense of belonging and trust. The model is as much about problem-solving as it is about creating a sense of connection.”

Workshop number 5, scheduled for April 5, will teach a skill that builds trust and connection. In the “Joy Multiplier” webinar, participants will discuss four common ways people respond to another person’s positive experience, and will learn how to strengthen relationships by being authentic and engaged when someone shares positive news.

The final workshop, “Positive Emotions and Resilience Symbols” on April 19, will explore a variety of positive emotions like gratitude, awe, and curiosity, the benefits of experiencing these emotions, and habits that cultivate them.

“The last part of the workshop is the resilient symbol,” explains Reivich. “People will come to the session with an object that is a symbol of resilience and well-being. Each person will have the opportunity to talk about the meaning the object has in their life. This last session is a beautiful close to the workshop.”

The resilience skills virtual workshop series is one resource of many in the MindWell at Penn program offerings for faculty and staff. A mailer will soon be arriving at faculty and staff homes, reminding families of the resources for strength and care.