Life is all about change, and change produces stress. But there is good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress). You wouldn’t want to get rid of the good stress associated with birthdays, weddings, vacations and all the enjoyable things in life. You wouldn’t want to avoid the stress that helps protect you – tells you to remove your hand if you put it down on a hot stove burner or prepares you to run away from a threat. You cannot get rid of acute stress (like accidents) and for the most part human beings handle acute stress episodes fairly well; they are short term and when they are over and done with you recover from them. The stress you want to avoid as much as possible is chronic, low level stress – that’s the stress that hurts health-wise.
In the 1970’s researcher Dr. Susan Kobasa studied stress levels experienced by executives at Bell Telephone Company while the company was undergoing major restructuring. She identified a stress-hardy personality type. Hardiness refers to a positive outlook that views change as normal. Hardiness may provide protection from harmful effects of stress. Kobasa’s study found that stress-hardy executives had 50% less stress-related health problems than the less hardy executives.
Three aspects of hardiness (often referred to as “the 3 C’s”) are: challenge—viewing stressful occasions as opportunities for growth; commitment—being involved in life, believing what you are doing is important; and control—being able to influence one’s own life. Stress hardy individuals do not experience less stress, but they are more resilient and able to deal better with it so it does not cause problems.
Some people are naturally stress hardy. Others can develop stress hardiness by learning to be more resilient. You can’t avoid stress, so build up resilience. Resiliency skills differ from stress management skills; the more resilient you are the less stress bothers you.
Here are some ways you can build resiliency:
- Develop coping resources
- Stay flexible and “go with the flow”; realize that things change and plans may need to be adjusted
- Maintain perspective; learn to see the “big picture”
- Don’t “awfulize”; everyone has bad days; you can choose how to respond to setbacks
- Learn from mistakes or failures
- Be aware of negative “self talk” and correct it
- Be proactive, not reactive; do something to move forward, even if it’s just a “baby step”
- Develop communication and listening skills
- Cultivate supporting relationships
- In emotional situations, think before acting
- Develop confidence and a positive self-image
- Take care of yourself; eat well, get enough sleep and exercise
- Develop an attitude of gratitude
- Develop spiritual resources