5 Steps to Build Resilience Strength
And these days, there’s plenty of it to go around. It’s like the world has gone to the “gym of stress” all at the same time.
So when a positive psychologist suggests stress isn’t all bad, you vomit a little in your mouth and mutter to yourself, “what a jackass”.
I get it. And I’m still asking you to stick with me for 3 minutes. It might be just the stress-management support you need right now.
Stress Fuels Resilience
We all know the downsides. High amounts of stress, especially sustained over time, can contribute to physiological and psychological problems.
The thing is, we’re built for stress. To manage it AND to grow from it.
Our bodies are incredibly resilient and can endure and grow from stress in impressive ways. Bodybuilders aren’t born looking that way. They stress their muscles repeatedly and, as a result, the muscles grow in both size and strength.
Our psychological resilience is like a muscle. Apply the stress of life and sure, it hurts at first. But it can also lead to productive growth.
One of my favorite pieces of research proves it.
Here’s the basic gist:
The highest levels of stress and trauma do indeed predict higher incidence of mental distress (no surprise here).
The lowest levels of stress and trauma (imagine a never ending supply of tropical beverages brought to you while you lay on a beach in Hawaii getting a never-ending massage) actually predicts higher incidence of mental distress! Surprising, huh?
The big takeaway is that the most resilient people – the people most able to endure and productively respond to life’s challenges – were those in the middle. Experiencing some amount of stress and adversity seems to be critical for developing highly functioning resilience skills.
Resilience Gym Workouts
Stress can be beneficial. Even when it doesn’t feel like that in the moment.
Our body, brain, and mind needs some amount of stress in order to grow.
And we can help it along.
A recent study tested a 5-step process for strengthening resilience skills. It worked! Those in the experimental group experienced significantly less negative emotion and task-related stress.
The stressor was still challenging. But with this intervention participants felt better able to productively cope with and respond to the stress they experienced.
Given all the challenges we’re currently facing, how can you use this to give your resilience muscles an effective workout?
Set aside 10 minutes. Make sure this time is uninterrupted and you are free from distraction. Think about a specific situation earlier that day or week you felt particularly stressed out. Grab a pen and paper and, in order, work through these five steps:
Practice some self-awareness. What, exactly, are you feeling right now as you think about this situation? What were you feeling when it happened? Describe those feelings. Name them if you can.
Identify what the trigger was for the stress. What, specifically, caused you to feel that way? Is it a value that was being threatened? A concern about your own ability? A worry about what someone might think of you? Be specific and honest with yourself.
Work on re-appraising the situation. Specifically, imagine what can be learned from this. If this specific situation were to happen again, could you benefit from skills to better manage stress in real-time? Or skills to better accept how you feel or what is happening around you? What about skills to imagine alternative explanations for the event?
Now, shift to evaluation. Take a moment to distance yourself from the event and how you feel/felt. Now, consider what worked in managing this event? You’re still here so something worked! Next, what didn’t work? What didn’t serve you well or productively?
Finally, consider a future-focus. Take all you’ve done in steps 1 – 4 and consider, “what can I do in the future when this or something similar happens again?”
The beauty of this tool is it’s flexibility. Do it daily or weekly. By yourself or with a partner. Apply it to work or your life in general. Use it as a leadership development tool or set aside more time and make it a team “debrief” exercise.
All will be of benefit.
Know this – you already have resilience muscles. And they can grow.
Life sends us to the “gym of stress” whether we ask for it or not. Now you have the tools to put your time there to good use.
And I believe in your strength and courage. You got this. You’ll get through it. And you’ll be even stronger on the other side.