Everybody has a story. And some people have many stories.
Telling stories about our world, our relationships and our lives is a fundamental way in which human beings create meaning.
The reality is that human beings have engaged in storytelling for thousands of years; think back to our ancestors gathered around the campfire or a candlelit dinner in the 1700’s with someone sharing their day’s experiences at the general store. For generations, storytelling has been utilized to forge connections between people, to share cultural ideas and values, and to inspire dreams and hopes.
Research indicates that our brains process information in narrative form, and it is via story that we connect with each other and create a sense of community more swiftly.
Cognitive psychologist , Jerome Bruner, suggests that we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story.
If crafted well, stories depict characters with depth and ambiguity. They engage our emotions on a profound level, and can, therefore, trigger decision-making and also motivate us to change/evolve. Stories can influence thoughts, behaviors and the ability to forge ahead – even in challenging times.
However, in order to generate others’ empathy, the stories must simultaneously transport the reader. Transportation is the enchantment which occurs when a story has the full mental and emotional attention of the reader/listener; and this holds true for children as well as adults. The 4-step structure of narrative – beginning, problem, resolution and ending - forms a mental map onto which new information can be laid. When that information is presented in a familiar narrative form, the memory structure facilitates the brain’s retention of that information. Moreover, far beyond childhood, being read or told a story can rekindle the sense of being nurtured.
Living through the devastating COVID-19 pandemic has re-ignited the need for individuals from all walks of life to share stories as a way to reflect, re-assess, revive and ‘reset.’ Because stories also have the power to help us heal.
The extreme uncertainty caused by the pandemic has exacerbated psychological reactions such as anxiety and depression – especially among caregivers. These include working caregivers in corporations of all sizes who have had to balance a triple whammy -- their work-life-caregiving role.
A recently completed study with caregivers of people with dementia — not only those with low levels of resilience, and regardless of the clinical diagnosis of the caretaker — included a recommendation for them to seek online psychological and educational programs to reduce their depressive symptomatology, anxiety, and burden levels.
(Altieri, M., & Santangelo, G. (2021). The Psychological Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic and Lockdown on Caregivers of People With Dementia. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry : official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, 29(1), 27–34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2020.10.009)
According to a Kaiser Survey published in March 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women in a number of ways. While many have had to put themselves and their families at risk to work on the frontlines as essential workers, a number of women have also had to take on new homeschooling and caregiving responsibilities that have placed additional burdens on their work or resulted in their leaving the workforce entirely. Disparities that existed prior to the pandemic have been magnified, and a larger share of women of color and those who are low-income have had to quit their jobs, as well as take on additional caregiving responsibilities.
A May 2021 survey found that 66% of employees are concerned about returning to the office – some of them due to their increased caregiving responsibilities. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/2021/03/16/as-covid-continues-most-employees-remain-concerned-about-returning-to-workplace-survey/?sh=a9ad51f3d1db)
Employees are clearly expecting significant changes in the workplace when they return to the office. Expectations include greater flexibility where and when work is done, a greater sense of social connection, community and understanding as well as a fresh focus on health and safety. Corporations who fail to address the psycho-emotional needs of their employees run the risk of losing some of them as they are no longer willing to put up with inflexibility.
Resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with stressors; consequently, working caregivers with a low level of resilience are likely to be even more prone to increased psychological malaise. Arming employees with the tools, support and encouragement they need is likely to benefit businesses and Society in general.
Many years ago, the American philosopher Henry, David Thoreau asked “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” Storytelling enables us to do this.
And because it has the power to inspire us to build resilience and move forward, it appears poised to become a valued and ‘hot’ trend – for individuals as well as corporations -- as we navigate the waters of this uncharted COVID-world.
However, storytelling is actually out of sync with our contemporary focus on speed, technology and superficial messaging – think Instagram posts or Tweets. That is because it requires time, real human interaction, focus and patience. And it is designed to promote self-discovery and to equip individuals to take time out to acknowledge and express their story/situation, and to empathize with each other.
According to Dr Paul Zak, Professor of Economic Sciences, Psychology & Management, Director, Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Clarement Graduate University, CA, research indicates that there is a causal role linking story, oxytocin and empathy for those who are suffering and in need. When released, oxytocin is the hormone which makes individual more compassionate, generous and trustworthy. This suggests that compelling storytelling offers a neural foundation for empathy and sheds light on why well-crafted stories have the potential to be so powerful.
Working caregivers’ stories frequently go unacknowledged and unexpressed, resulting in feelings of emptiness, isolation and sadness. Encouraging working caregivers to access their feelings about their caregiving role, explore and recount their stories can help them confront their reality, and fill it with understanding, meaning and purpose.
It also allows them to be heard, recognized and valued by their work colleagues, and can also enhance perceptions of the quality of their life – in spite of the hardships.
It is also a powerful way to foster social inclusiveness and a sense of camaraderie, and diminish racism among working caregivers – even across departments. As such, it is an initiative which is likely to be in sync with many corporations’ current focus on DEI. (Diversity, Equity, Inclusiveness)
Enter: Storytelling Retreat by Timeless. (a Legacy Storytelling consultancy)
Caregiver Camp offers 3 different layers of Storytelling Retreat for corporations including extended Lunch ‘n’ Learns for Managers and working caregivers.
These sessions can be a mind-broadening, restorative and educative way to navigate the waters of this uncharted COVID-world.
Key Storytelling Retreat benefits for working caregivers include the opportunity to:
■ Reflect on one’s reality, responsibilities, emotions & ‘reset’
■ Improve communication and relationships between oneself and one’s Manager/work colleagues
■ De-stigmatize mental and emotional health and/or caregiving issues in the workplace
■ Foster social inclusiveness and thus diminish racism
This is certainly a much-needed initiative, and one which is in sync with many corporations’ current focus on DEI – Diversity, Equity, Inclusiveness – efforts
■ Unearth a more balanced, positive and optimistic perspective on the world and the caregiving process
■ Trigger greater camaraderie and Quality of Life in the workplace because of shared caregiving realities/shared confidences about these
■ View the corporation in a more positive, caring light