But what makes some people more resilient than others, and what are some of the best ways to bounce back when dealing with severe stress?
Is All Stress Bad?
Often when we hear the word “stress” and we immediately associate it with that rise in our blood pressure or that anxious feeling brewing in the pit of our stomach.
Although stress isn’t always the negative emotion we believe it to be, as it can be the thing that propels and motivates us to work harder, take action and achieve our goals. It’s often the hidden emotion driving us to excel and go beyond our “safe” limits.
Although of course high levels of stress over long periods of time, or severe stress as a result of a particularly difficult or traumatic experience, can be debilitating emotionally and physically.
For example, if you’ve experienced the breakdown of your marriage the level of stress you encounter will be significantly different and longer lasting than you stress you face if you’re up against a deadline at work.
How To Be Resilient
We all deal with stress in our individual ways, however what makes some people more resilient than others?
To learn more about this, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experts Dr. Steven Southwick and Dr. Dennis Charney studied the reasons for resilience in their recent book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges.
Their research, which included studying cases studies of Prisoners Of War (POW) survivors, victims of natural disasters, and those who had experienced extreme abuse, found that our ability to be resilient – no what matter the situation – boils down to some common factors.
“We found things in common from these disparate groups, a common set of factors that seemed to relate to resilience. We ended up boiling them down to 10 factors. You can train yourself to be more resilient by paying attention to these. And you don’t need all 10. Some are more pertinent to one individual than they are to another to help you get through tough times.”
So what are some of these common factors? Here are our top three resilience-strengthening pointers from the list.
1. Realistic Positivity And Acceptance
According to their research, one determining factor is adopting a positive and realistic attitude to the challenges ahead.
Although in order to adopt a positive outlook, you first need to accept what’s occurring, which of course can take time depending on the severity of your situation. It’s important to give yourself this time to mourn the losses you have experienced and come to terms with the reality of the situation.
Although by accepting a situation and choosing to be optimistic, you shift your perception from feeling like you do not have any control, to one where you can say: “This is going to be difficult, however I will prevail and get through this challenging period.”
On the other side of the coin, being too optimistic and not evaluating the challenges accurately can set you up for failure. From their research, this was especially true for POW’s (as marching into combat without a plan would have most likely have got them killed). Although in far less extreme circumstances, such as everyday life, this notion is as equally valid as deciding an appropriate course of action to help get you back on your feet is a vital part of the recovery process.
2. Staying True To Your Morals
Another interesting fact from their research was those who develop a set of impenetrable morals, no matter how challenging the situation, have a greater ability to bounce back. Abiding by a strong belief system is an incredibly powerful defense mechanism – because it means that there’s a part of you that cannot be touched or taken away.
Whether your beliefs are tied to spirituality, your own internal belief system, or a particular faith, a strong and unshakable set of morals can help you deal with stress and make sense of a situation.
3. Support And Nurture A Social Connection With Others
Very few in this world can go it alone.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek support from people who care about you. Pick people who you know will empathize with what you’re going through, or those who have experienced a similar situation. Group discussions can be incredibly cathartic (especially for those who do not have a strong support network) as it helps you realize that you’re not alone in your feelings and reactions.
While most of us will experience some form of severe stress during our lives, whether it be as a result of the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties or coming to terms with a traumatic experience, by understanding some of the healing mechanisms we can learn to bounce back quicker.
We have highlighted three factors proven to help increase your resilience, but please do share with us any strengths you have that have helped you overcome a stressful situation and get you back on your feet.