Cybersecurity, cyber awareness month, laptop, computer

Mind Full? How to Crack the Code to Successful Cyber-Mindfulness

Cybersecurity, cyber awareness month, laptop, computer

Article by Yvonne Eskenzi, Co-Founder of The Zensory

When people think of the cybersecurity industry, they probably don’t think of wellness. But, as cybersecurity has never been a low-stress field and the industry attracts highly skilled, technical perfectionists, perhaps it’s time to change that.

With increased threats of cyberattacks and ransomware, anxiety is sweeping workplaces across the globe. This Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we should take a step back and examine the stresses that fall onto the shoulders of cybersecurity professionals (often without complaint) and how we can help them.

The Science of Stress

Stress isn’t a new thing. To get technical, it’s a primordial response, an activation of the amygdala which triggers a flight or fight reaction. Plainly, it’s a survival instinct. Back in the days when threats were very much life or death, this was vital for survival. However, in the 21st century, we’re more likely to experience continued low levels of stress over a prolonged period. This has a huge (and lasting) effect on focus and productivity, especially if it’s not managed properly. Scientifically speaking, chronic low-level stress means that the amygdala gets special attention from your brain and prevents your prefrontal cortex (the part used for creativity and high-level thinking) from focusing properly. This means that you’re more likely to struggle with focus. But what does this mean for cybersecurity professionals?

The Pressures of the Cybersecurity Industry on Professionals

One of the largest problems within the industry is the cybersecurity skills gap. Nearly half of UK businesses say that they have a basic cybersecurity skills gap which means that there’s a relatively small pool of professionals taking on a lot of work and such work brings great responsibility. Looming over the job is the thought of a potential cyberattack that could be costly, time-consuming, and catastrophic. Stress, going hand in hand with overworking and subsequent burn out, could mean missing personal engagements, like holidays and birthdays, too. Unfortunately, for many cyber professionals this is considered ‘just part of the job’. Shockingly, 9 in 10 CISOs said that they were under high or moderate levels of stress. Even more worryingly, 40% of CISOs said that the stress they were under impacted their relationships with their family.

But it’s not just highly trained cybersecurity professionals who are taking the strain. With cybercriminals becoming savvier and finding new (expertly disguised) ways to distribute malicious content, if employees are under a lot of stress elsewhere, their ability to focus and dodge such attacks could also be compromised. This means they may be more likely to fall for an attack. With professionals forced to work from home during the pandemic, where there are often frequent interruptions, the stress situation only got worse. In fact, 80% of cybersecurity staff saying that they’re dealing with more stress since the pandemic.

Evidently businesses are not doing enough to support their employees with their wellbeing either. In a survey we conducted at the International Cyber Expo, we found that only 50% of cybersecurity professionals that we spoke to have any wellbeing support at all within their organisation. More than ever, now is the time for a wellbeing revolution within the cybersecurity industry.

The Power of Binaural Beats

But what can be done? There are many reasons why businesses might not want to invest in wellbeing services for their employees, from financial costs to a pre-existing steadfast laissez-faire approach to employee mental health. However, the cost (and benefit) of wellbeing support will surely be less than the total cost of a data breach. Importantly, we should see cybersecurity professionals as people, not machines. Wellbeing support is an investment in people and the human side of cybersecurity that many people forget.

A powerful tool that can be used to drive focus and productivity is the use of binaural beats. Binaural beats are powerful auditory illusions. They work by feeding two different sounds into either ear using headphones, played at different frequencies. By listening to binaural beats whilst working, you can replicate brain wave states of alpha, beta, gamma and more (which all have been shown to boost focus, relaxation, and creativity). This happens because your mind imagines it is listening to the music between the frequencies, so you’re not distracted by the highs and lows of music. This helps you to focus and take on the task at hand.

The Key? A Multi-Sensory Routine

There are, of course, other powerful tools that can be harnessed to aid cyber mindfulness, including using the Pomodoro Timer (which helps you to focus in small, focused bursts). Importantly, the easiest way to hack your mood is to engage all your senses. This can be done in a variety of ways, like clearing your mind on a walk, eating a diet filled with ‘focus foods’ (including dark chocolate!), and/or listening to nature sounds.

Our solution? An app that combines all the senses! As someone with over 27 years of experience within the cybersecurity industry, I noticed an alarming lack of wellbeing support. This was just one reason why creating a wellbeing and productivity app, The Zensory, which cybersecurity professionals can use to focus (as well as unwind) was crucial. Convincing cybersecurity professionals to seek such support is another challenge that will take time!

Closeup of sad young Asian woman at cafe leaning head on clasped hands and staring into vacancy. Tired freelancer feeling burnout. Stress and bad news concept, stress

Ten techniques to combat stress and anxiety at work

Closeup of sad young Asian woman at cafe leaning head on clasped hands and staring into vacancy. Tired freelancer feeling burnout. Stress and bad news concept, stress

Article provided by Liz Walker, HR Director, Unum

Practice mindfulness

Many of the techniques mentioned involve mindfulness, which is a popular method of combatting anxiety. Mindfulness can stop you worrying by bringing your attention back to the present through acknowledging your worries and letting them go.

Mindfulness allows you to get in touch with your emotions and recognise how you feel.

Take a step back

Viewing thoughts and worries as if they are show or film you’re observing can be a good way to disconnect yourself from them and to finally put them out of your mind.

Accept strange thoughts

We all have strange thoughts from time to time, such as ‘what if I scream during a presentation?’. These thoughts are natural and will jump out from time to time. When this happens instead of focusing on it, describe it to yourself as the curiosity it is and move on. Remember, our minds are creative with lots of little thoughts floating about.

Recognise false alarms

Everyone has the sudden worry they didn’t lock the front door or left the iron on, however rarely do these things actually materialise. When you find yourself thinking along these lines and notice your body responding with a rapid heartbeat, recognise the situation for what it is. Acknowledge the thoughts and sensations but let them pass.

Positive Self Talk

Often, we’re far harder on ourselves than we would be on others. Try to talk positively to yourself rather than putting yourself down, like you would if you were talking to a child or friend who was nervous. Telling yourself phrases such as ‘this feeling will pass’ and ‘I will be ok’ could help to reassure you and reduce stress or worry.

Set Aside Worry Time

Sometimes worries can niggle at us and prevent us from doing things we should be doing. When this happens jot down the reason you’re feeling anxious and resolve to think it through later. By the time you get to doing that it’s likely many of the worries you’ve noted won’t be an issue anymore.

Question Your Thoughts

Feeling anxious can make our thoughts spiral out of control and think outlandish things. When you find this happening try to question your thoughts by asking yourself such questions as ‘is this worry realistic?’ and ‘what is the worst possible outcome and would it really be that bad?’.

Learn to Say No

Don’t take on too much, if you’re overloaded with work and extremely busy but given more work, try to push back. Talking to your boss about the situation will give them a better understanding of your workload and could allow you to push back deadlines or receive some help with a task.

Keep Track

Keep a diary for a week or two to track which situations make you feel most stressed and how you respond to them. Record your thoughts and feelings and what you did as a result; this can help you find out what situations make you stressed and your reactions to it.

Talk About It

Voicing your concerns, worries or feelings to an attentive and trusted listener can feel very cathartic. The person you speak to doesn’t have to ‘fix’ things, just listen to you even if it doesn’t change the situation.