Fast-track your way into stress resilience
Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology and the former President of the American Psychological Association, highlights the pillars of resilience as follows – physical health, social support, adversity, strong personal values and optimism. Each of them matters a great deal, but the one that we can all certainly leverage is adversity. There are very few of us who have not experienced difficulties in their lives. These past difficulties can provide us with “raw material” to fast-track our way into resilience.
How does it work? Building resilience as a result of adversity requires three things – acknowledging, overcoming and reflecting.
Step 1: Acknowledging your stress
When you’re facing a difficult situation in your work, family or social life instead of avoiding it, try to acknowledge it:
- What thoughts, emotions, behaviours and physical sensations are coming up?
- What is your actual fear or concern?
- What’s at stake here that you care deeply about?
When we fully acknowledge our thoughts, emotions and sensations in our body, we’re subconsciously "tagging" them. Next time when they arise, our subconscious is able to recognise them. In doing so, these experiences are no longer unfamiliar nor scary. They are mere signals indicating the need for a change, either in our actions or in our response. We're back in the driver's seat.
Step 2: Overcoming the situation
Once we become aware of the fear or the concern we’re experiencing, we’re able to shift gears in our brain. Our pre-frontal cortex (the rational part of our brain) suppresses activity in the amygdala (our core fear system). We’re able to start designing a coping strategy with confidence and motivation.
Try asking yourself the following:
- How reasonable is your worry given the evidence?
- What is under your control?
- What are your strengths and skills that can help you? Perhaps it's love for learning, efficiency or persistence.
Step 3: Reflecting once it's passed
Finally, the step that we so often miss – reflecting back on the fact that we have experienced and overcome the difficulty. How many times have you found yourself facing the same difficulty, feeling threatened by it over and over again? Why does it keep on happening? Simply because you haven’t fully acknowledged your ability to overcome it. Perhaps you may feel you could have done it better, but the truth of the matter is that you have survived it. In doing so, you must have done something right. Sure, you want to do it better next time. But why not build on what you have already achieved rather than start from zero?
Once the situation has passed, ask yourself the following:
- What did you do that helped you get through it?
- What did you learn and how did it make you stronger?
- How do you view it differently now from how you perceived it at the time?
You see, the trick to fast-forwarding yourself into resilience is looking back in the past and acknowledging some of the key difficulties you have experienced and overcome. If none comes to mind, challenge yourself – start by simply listing those key challenging experiences without thinking of how you coped with them. Then ask yourself the three questions above. You’ll likely realise that not only did you overcome them, but you became stronger and more insightful as a result.
Continue acknowledging the challenges you're experiencing on a regular basis by making a note of them in a journal – a "Worry Box". Review your notes and celebrate your learnings at the end of every month. You’ll be building your resilience faster than you could have ever imagined. Because all you’re really doing is capitalising on what is already there. It’s that simple.