IMPROVING OUR RESILIENCE TO STRESS

 

Most of us have heard the old adage that goes, “into each life some rain must fall.”  Well, the saying really is true.  Everyone goes through periods of adversity in their lives, experiencing trauma, or living through times of high stress.  The range of these experiences varies from automobile accidents, to the loss of jobs, to severe personal illness or illness in our family, to the deaths of loved ones, to the extreme shock of incidents like nine-eleven in 2001 or the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007.  We can expect traumatic events to occur in the course of our life and those of people we love.  Remarkably, though, most of us never develop intense stress symptoms because of these experiences.

The reason for this lies in our ability to bounce back, to be resilient.  You can think of resilience in terms of a rubber band that, when stretched, returns its original shape.  For many, this ability to overcome troubling events is a part of their temperament, but the good news is that we all possess and can amplify this gift.

In the scientific sense, resilience refers to the personal and environmental factors influencing a good adjustment.  In the day-to-day sense, it means those personal qualities and resources that help us move on with our lives.  Research into resilience has been going on for decades.  This research has looked into the influences that tend to reduce the effects of severe stress as well as those that intensify it.

So, what has this research discovered that can help you recognize what makes the process of coping with trauma and adversity more effective for you?  You can begin by examining the behaviors, thoughts, beliefs and actions that help you deal with your problems.  Perhaps you use meditation, exercise, or hobbies; maybe you like doing puzzles or reading.  Your strategies could also include playing a musical instrument or drawing.  These activities allow us return to a sense of feeling centered so that we reconnect to our qualities rather than focus on the problems or perceived flaws.

Some people like to write.  I would suggest that in your writing, you avoid a focus entirely upon those painful or stressful parts of your life.  Remember as well to remark on the beauty you see around you.  If you feel on a given day that it is hard to find the beauty, make a point of looking for something: someone’s smile, children playing innocently, a pleasant aroma.  Be sure, in other words, to stop and smell the roses.

Work to develop and maintain a sense of hopefulness; believe that whatever you deal with now you can move through and that you will find the resources to do so.  Believe, as well, that good will come from your efforts.

Research into resilience has found that a person’s spirituality can be a powerful factor influencing their resilience.  Of equal importance, especially to children and adolescents, but also for adults, is finding and connecting to a constant person in their life.  By this I mean an individual who can be relied upon as a listener, who will reflect personal qualities to us, and who, when critical, will do so only when essential and only to the degree needed to help us cope more effectively.  Above all, a constant person is someone who remains available to us day in and day out.  I hope that you can see, as well, the importance for all of us to nurture these qualities in ourselves, so that we can become a constant person for others.

All of these strategies help us regain a sense of our own power, see where our control lies, and find ways to deal with the stress in our life.  They allow us to begin to perceive our world and ourselves differently so that our natural mental and physical attributes can begin whatever healing process we need.

Let me briefly mention something about posttraumatic stress.  We hear a great deal about it in the news, and, to tell the truth, many people develop it, not only in the military, but also in our society.  Having said that, though, let me emphasize that most people do not develop posttraumatic stress following the experience of a trauma.  If you experience trauma or severe adversity, remember, the chances are you will come out of it okay.  Recall that I mentioned in the beginning that everyone experiences some form of trauma and adversity in their lives without developing intense stress.  Assuming that you have posttraumatic stress only increases the chances it will develop.  If you find that your normal means of dealing with problems has not proved effective, then consult with a professional experienced in helping with these issues.

To discover more about resilience and to learn more about it, begin by looking at the American Psychological Association site on the subject:

www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx

Finally, trust your own ability to work through the stress in your life and trust also your perseverance to do so.  Remember that most people who face trials in their lives move past them in healthy ways, and that we all have the capacity to nurture that capacity for resilience.

Remember that you are resilient.

 

Bernard J. Bonner, Ph.D.

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