Friday, February 22, 2013

Personal Resilience 101: Stress Hardiness

"Few men during their lifetime come anywhere near exhausting the resources dwelling within them. There are deep wells of strength that are never used."
~ Richard E. Byrd ~

Enduring stress over prolonged periods of time diminishes the quality of our life. It reduces our feelings of pleasure and accomplishments, and often threatens our relationships. Our ability to deal effectively with stress and  the pressures of everyday life improves our well-being. To increase our capacity to manage stress and improve our emotional intelligence skills, we have to develop and nurture a stress hardy mindset. In their book, The Power of Resilience, Robert Brooks, PH.D and Sam Goldstein, PH.D acknowledges the research of psychologist, Dr. Suzanne Kobosa on what encompasses a stress hardy personality. She identifies the three components of a stress hardy personality as:

·        Commitment

·        Challenge

·        Personal Control

Brooks and Goldstein writes, “We are more vulnerable to stress if we believe our lives are bereft of purpose or if we fail to follow a path in which we feel that we are being honest and true to ourselves.” So the question that we must ask ourselves, over and over again is this, “Am I living a life that is in accord with my values, priorities or commitments?” When I consider periods in my life in which I felt as if I was powerless, many of those moments came about as a result of me not honoring my truth. Instead, I allowed the needs, wants and demands of others to be “the” dominant influence of my actions. Most of us have no qualms at placing what we need or want in our relationships and in our life on the back burner when it comes to fulfilling the needs and wants of those we care the most about. Most of the time, our commitment to others brings us personal satisfaction. We understand that life requires compromise and sacrifice. 

However, we have to maintain the self-awareness necessary to set healthy boundaries in our relationships and the activities that we engage so that we are not allowing others and "busyness" distract our focus and energy from creating the experiences that represent the life we desire to live. We have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable so that we can meet new challenges with a “can do” attitude and stress hardy mindset. We have to cooperate with the Lord and become co-creators of the life that we were destined to experience. 

To nurture a stress hardy mindset, we have to question ourselves on a regular basis to determine if we are practicing  the components of a stress hardy personality. And when we are not, we have to take time to consider how we can practice these fundamentals until they become habit. Brooks and Goldstein shares insightful ways as to how we can put into practice the three components identified by Dr. Kobosa that makes up a hardy personality or mindset.

1.    Commitment

According to the authors, Dr. Kobosa describes commitment as being involved with rather than alienated from, the many aspects of life. They write, “When commitment is present, we possess a sense of purpose that tells us why we are doing what we are doing. We are guided by a vision that provides passions and merry to our lives, lessening the impact of stress. In essence, we have a reason for waking up each morning and meeting life’s challenges.”

Consider three things that gives your life meaning and purpose. Why are you energized to remain committed to them in the face of any challenge? How do they give your life meaning and satisfaction? By keeping in the forefront of our mind the beliefs, values and activities which fuels our sense of meaning and purpose, our level of commitment to them reduces our stress and increases our resilience.

2.    Challenge

We’ve all heard at some point, “It’s not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you that matters.” Brooks and Goldstein writes, “Not surprisingly, stress hardy individuals are those who perceive difficult situations as challenges from which to learn rather than opportunities to feel defeated.” They assert, “It is not always an easy task when faced with adversity to search for the opportunities that may lie ahead as hidden nuggets in this terrain. But not to undertake this search is to continue to experience pessimism and stress.”

When faced with a problem the words that you speak about it and your ability to overcome it plays a crucial role in the mindset that you adopt towards it. Just the idea of defining the problem as a challenge increases your ability to confront rather than retreat from the situation. You will be more flexible and creative towards the circumstance, and more likely to learn from the situation instead of feeling hopeless and defeated.

3.    Personal Control

Often we feel a heightened sense of stress during periods in our life when we feel less personal control. Prolonged stress increases our chance of experiencing mental and emotional health problems. In Dr. Kobosa’s research on stress hardy personality, it was found that people are less stressed when they devote time and energy to managing that which they have control or influence. In other words, when we look outside of ourselves for experiencing the better we desire in life, we add to our stress.
The first step to achieving a sense of personal control is identifying what is and is not within your control or influence. When you are blinded by outdated assumptions that has never been challenged with a willingness to consider fresh insights we shackle our lives to patterns of thinking that continue to fuel emotions and behaviors that sabotages your progress. You know, as well as I, how difficult it is to change others. It can be downright exhausting and depressing. It is much more productive for you to concentrate on what you can do differently in any given situation so that you can meet challenges with a sense of purpose, passion and perseverance.

Once we accept that we cannot control the response of others, we learn to accept the reality of what we can and cannot control, we will begin to make decisions for our life from an empowered perspective. Resilient people do not sit passively by, hoping that factors beyond their control or influence will change. Instead, they recognize that their ability to affect positive change dwells with their willingness to take responsibility for initiating proactive behavior.

As you reflect on the components of a stress hardy mindset: commitment, challenge and personal control challenge yourself to consider how you might practice these fundamentals towards nurturing a stress hardy mindset. Remind yourself of your past victories and how you were able to overcome those situations. Too often, we undervalue what we can do. Minimize your stress by focusing on what you can control and influence. Adopting effective coping strategies that enables you to better manage stress will improve your well-being and build your inner resilience to the challenges that will come in
 your life.

In what ways can you begin to implement the tips outlined in this post? Share your comments below so that others can learn and grow from your experience. We will all be the better because of it. Thanks in advance, Jackie.

It’s Your Move ~ Aspire Higher