When stress inevitably hits us, there are ways to manage it and mitigate its effects. But why wait? Why not be proactive and build up the stress-busting quality of resilience so that, when stress arrives, we are ready for it?
Building resilience is like making regular deposits into a rainy day fund. The bigger our reserves, the better we will be able to withstand future adversity.
Keep in mind that resilience is not just the ability to bounce back from difficulties or setbacks—it is also the ability to thrive amid tough challenges. Those very challenges can increase our resilience if we meet them head on and with a positive mindset.
The power of healthy habits
Physical and psychological wellbeing are the foundation of resilience. Our other efforts to cope productively with stress will be undermined if we do not incorporate healthy habits into our daily routine.
The Harvard Medical School emphasizes the importance of diet, exercise, and regular sleep in combatting stress and building resilience. While it can be tempting to stray from healthy eating during a long day, unhealthy choices will drain our energy and contribute to mood swings.
Similarly, exercise may seem like an extra or an indulgence when we are facing a deadline—but even a short workout will help us burn off steam and recharge our batteries.
Erratic sleep is both a symptom of and a contributor to stress. A poor night’s sleep depletes our reserves and leaves us less resilient the following day. Depriving ourselves of a chance to reset during the day, in turn, leads to restless sleep.
Deep focus and frequent breaks
We cannot build resilience without a productive work routine that alternates periods of deep focus with frequent breaks. Unfortunately, in today’s distraction-rich and high-stress environment, people often do the opposite—trying to do too many things at once, and not working in a chance to recover and recharge.
Being fully engaged in a single, meaningful task contributes to resilience in more than one way. When we are immersed in our work, we are more likely to feel intrinsic joy. Moreover, we increase our chances of achieving our goals—and these wins boost positive emotion and motivation.
Taking a break does not necessarily mean stepping away from the job. What is most important, research indicates, is that you choose something you enjoy and that energizes you.
Adopt a growth mindset
Often it is not the stressor itself but our attitude toward it that wears us down. Recent studies demonstrate that when we reframe a challenge as an opportunity instead of a threat, the heightened feelings of a potentially stressful situation can elevate our performance. We experience positive eustress instead of negative distress.
Eustress is a case of mind over matter. Studies have found that “reappraising” stress as a positive force can in fact alter our hormonal response to stressful situations.
A positive mindset is a significant focus of my work as an executive wellness coach. Clients who learn to see obstacles and challenges as growth opportunities invariably take a big leap in both their performance and their happiness.
Mindfulness is invaluable in combatting stress and building resilience. I have seen tremendous results with my workshops that combine mindfulness and resilience training for well-being and success.
Simply slowing down and paying attention to any anxiety we may be feeling is a big first step. Once we identify and name a feeling, we are better able to deal with it. We can also note how stress resides in our body and work to alleviate it.
Mindfulness helps us be fully present in the moment. When we are engaged in the here and now, we are less likely to ruminate about the past or worry about the future. Whether we are working or taking a break, we can enjoy the activity on its terms.
A mindfulness practice also improves our cognitive flexibility—our ability to roll with the punches and improvise. An agile mind is able to successfully navigate challenging situations, leaving us more resilient for the future. Conversely, a stressed-out mind is inflexible and locked into preconceived ideas.
Show gratitude and compassion
No habit takes less time and contributes more to resilience than a regular gratitude practice. Taking the time to note our daily blessings relieves stress and fosters a growth mindset.
When we are thankful, we are also more likely to show compassion toward others. According to the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, organizations with a culture of compassion exhibit higher job satisfaction and higher performance.
If we pay attention to all of these healthy habits, we can do more than survive stress. Instead of weathering the storm of difficult times, we can ride the wave of energy they bring and transform our experience for the better. True resilience sets in motion a growth cycle in which we emerge from a challenge stronger than we were before, and eager to meet the next one.