The online world has buzzed about positivity and boundaries, and I’m hoping the next big buzz is resilience. It’s an important skill to cultivate. Yes, I said skill. On the surface it may seem like some people are just born more resilient than others, or perhaps they had better coaches when they were younger, but resilience isn’t fixed. There are ways to improve and manage the way that you deal with stress – which is what resilience is all about.
Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is stress. I know that seems like a weird comparison, but really, they’re both about perception. The way you view your situation and the stress that you deal with on a daily basis will determine how you handle it.
If you view it as detrimental and damaging, that’s how it will effect you.
And, likewise, if you view stress as manageable and a way for you to improve yourself, that’s how it will effect you – this option makes you resilient.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE RESILIENT?
The type of resilience discussed here is psychological resilience. In the most basic terms, how you manage and bounce back from stress. Resilience isn’t just putting on a brave face when disaster strikes, it’s about actively managing the feelings that you have and changing your view of the situation.
Diane Coutu says in her article How Resilience Works that there are three facets of resilience:
- Acceptance of reality
- Deep belief that life is meaningful
- Uncanny ability to improvise
I believe that these are the basic features of someone when they are actively dealing with the situation, but true resiliency is just a little bit more. Beyond how you deal with life when it is stressful, is the ability to deal with life when it’s NOT.
This sounds crazy, right? Who has a problem dealing with life when it’s not stressful? Well, workaholics for one. And there are many, many people in the US who fit this category. We as a society are working an average of 60 hours per week, not taking any of our allotted vacation days in a year, and checking our email and answering business calls after we are home. This is not going to make you resilient.
Just like your muscles to need to rest to grow stronger, so does your mind. A mind that is constantly focused and working doesn’t have to time to unload and rebuild. If it doesn’t get that time, you start heading for burnout.
Below are some of the steps you can take to actively build on your in the moment stress management. I have discussed a few things here as far as stress management, and they go hand in hand with these ideas. If you’re struggling through work every day I suggest you read a few of these articles on how to manage your energy, your emotions, and your time.
How NOT to be resilient
First let’s discuss what resilience is NOT. It is not putting up with an abusive boss, miserable working conditions or a damaging relationship. Just because you CAN manage a stressful situation, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. And yet people continue to stay in jobs they hate that make them miserable.
In addition, failing to manage the situation you’re in, isn’t resilience. If you truly cannot get away from your job or relationships that are troubling, you need to actively work to manage yourself. Just because you can put up with miserable people doesn’t mean you shouldn’t limit your exposure to them as much as possible.
A small study showed that 75% of people say that difficult coworkers were the greatest drain on their energy. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and limit your time with people that are draining your energy. This will help you to deal with other situations that are stressful because you’ll have more capacity to do so.
It’s all about perception
As I stated before, the stress response that happens in our bodies is actually effected by how we think it will effect us. People who think that stress will hurt them have a much more negative physical response than others that perceive it as a temporary boost to their mental function.
Therefore the first step is to change the way you view your stress. Consider stressful situations as a way to boost your ability to problem solve and heighten your awareness of the situation. The whole point of the stress response is to give you a temporary physical and mental boost to fight or flee from danger. Even though we aren’t dodging saber toothed tigers anymore, we can still think about our stress in a way that it’s meant to help us, not make us miserable.
The second place we can change perceptions is the way we view the actual situation. Perhaps the reason you’re stressed is because you lost a client to a competitor. Instead of getting caught in the downward spiral of focusing on all the horrible repercussions, think more about what you can learn AND how this might actually be a good thing.
Have you ever been dumped, and then later saw a picture of your ex or heard a story and thought “WHEW, dodged a bullet there!”? You weren’t thinking that at the time you were being dumped, but it all turned out for the best. Give all your stressful situations the benefit of this possibility.
AND THEN take it one step further. Once you’ve considered all the possibilities about how this might turn out to be a good thing – try to figure out how to make those things a reality. If losing this big client actually frees up time for you to attract multiple smaller clients that will add up to more money but less frustration – go out and get those clients.
Find the good and then make it happen.
As much as society would like us to be capable of being “always on” it’s a completely unrealistic expectation. We can only skip sleep and over caffeinate for so long before it catches up to us. Ariana Huffington had to literally collapse under her exhaustion before she realized she couldn’t keep up her pace. Don’t let that be you.
Rest vs Recovery
Just because you are not at work – doesn’t mean it’s not with you. You might have it buzzing away in your pocket or you might be mulling it over constantly.
Just because you are “resting” – as in not actually at the office or actively working, doesn’t mean you’re recovering. If you stay up all night worrying about the things you have to get done tomorrow, you’re actually going to be less productive then if you had just let it go.
You need recovery to build your resilience. In order to have the staying power and focus to handle stress when it comes at you, you need have taken a break from it in the first place.
This recovery needs a two fold approach:
Moments during the work day where you take a short break
Evenings and weekends (and vacation!) to fully recover
During the day make sure you are taking real breaks from your job. Don’t eat lunch at your desk or only walk away when forced. Take regular breaks every 90-120 minutes to give your brain a chance to switch off. The best ideas come when you’re not actively thinking about a problem.
When you’re done for the day, leave the office for real. Don’t check emails at home, tell staff to only call you in an emergency, and do whatever you can to stop thinking about work. Meditate, take up a hobby, practice mindfully being in the moment with your family and friends, get your mind away from stress.
This means home stress too. If you leave work and then go home to a stressful home renovation, even though this isn’t work, it’s still stress. You can deal with a situation like that in the short term, but if there’s no end in sight of stress at work AND home, then it’s time to change the situation. Resilience is NOT just suffering in silence, it’s actively managing your life.
Of course life is not all sunshine and roses all the time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t spend more energy focusing on the positive things, rather than dwelling on the negative.
We have evolved to inherently focus on the negative. This kept us alive when we needed to remember all our potentially deadly mistakes so they wouldn’t hurt us next time. However, now that we aren’t merely attempting to survive, we need to do what we can to overcome this negativity bias.
Two ways to do this are:
To keep positive people around you
We are influenced heavily by our tribe – those that are closest to us. If you hang out with negative people, you’re likely to become a negative person – and vice versa. Do what you can to actively manage the people that you spend most of your time with so that you can help manage the person that you become.
To focus on positive events
Because it is actually harder to focus on the positive aspects of life, we need to work a little more intently on it. Some ways that you can do this are to keep a positivity or gratitude journal – writing down the positive things will help fix them in your mind and you’ll have something to look back on when you’re having a rough time.
And also by focusing on gratitude by thanking those around you – either verbally or with old fashioned thank you notes – will help keep them positive and have a uplifting effect on you. You can also keep a list of things you’re thankful for in your journal or say them to yourself or others once a day.
If you’re going through an overwhelming or stressful situation and you don’t know how to dig out or deal with it, please send me a message. Coaching is a means to reduce stress and build resilience.