Last week the cover of People Management magazine was all over Twitter and the internet. As the owner of Stan the Cat, relaxed feline extraordinaire, it caught my eye. Cats really do seem to have the art of avoiding stress all sewn up, don’t they?
Life can be stressful at times. I don’t suppose it’s ever been any different. It’s just we get stressed by different things in different millennia. Woolly mammoths; invasions by Romans, Vikings, Normans; plague, fires, famine; the EU, too much traffic, pollution, John Prescott and BT…. You name it, there’s always something lurking about ready to upset us.
Can you avoid stress? The short answer is, you can’t avoid stressful factors. Stress is normal and is usually a good thing. But if we are subjected to too much stress (and this includes allowing ourselves to respond negatively to quite ordinary triggers) we can suffer an adverse impact on our health. If stress is not managed it can lead to mental ill health conditions such as depression and anxiety and trigger all sort of physical ill health conditions.
So what do we do? Of course there are a number of simple ways to keep stress levels down. These are all well known, for example:
- getting regular exercise;
- eating balanced meals and drinking plenty of water;
- getting enough rest;
- avoiding nicotine and too much alcohol;
- building positive relationships;
- tackling one thing at a time;
- taking breaks from work.
One stress-reduction technique currently under review is the cultivation of emotional resilience. Prevention is better than cure. We know that dealing with difficult and unpleasant situations is an inevitable part of life, but some people seem to be able to cope better than others. In an interesting article in Psychology Today, Brad Waters set out the characteristics of emotionally resilient people. The link to the full article is shown below.One stress-reduction technique currently under review is the cultivation of emotional resilience. Prevention is better than cure. We know that dealing with difficult and unpleasant situations is an inevitable part of life, but some people seem to be able to cope better than others. In an interesting article in Psychology Today, Brad Waters set out the characteristics of emotionally resilient people. The link to the full article is shown below.
1. They know their boundaries. Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of their temporary suffering. The stress/trauma might play a part in their story but it does not overtake their permanent identity.
2. They keep good company. Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people, whether just for fun or when there’s a need for support. Supportive people give us the space to grieve and work through our emotions. They know how to listen and when to offer just enough encouragement without trying to solve all of our problems with their advice. Good supporters know how to just be with adversity—calming us rather than frustrating us.
3. They cultivate self-awareness. Being ‘blissfully unaware’ can get us through a bad day but it's not a very wise long-term strategy. Self-awareness helps us get in touch with our psychological/physiological needs—knowing what we need, what we don’t need, and when it’s time to reach out for some extra help. The self-aware are good at listening to the subtle cues their body and their mood are sending.
On the other hand, a prideful stubbornness without emotional flexibility or self-awareness can make us emotional glaciers: Always trying to be strong in order to stay afloat, yet prone to massive stress fractures when we experience an unexpected change in our environment.
4. They practice acceptance. Pain is painful, stress is stressful, and healing takes time. When we're in it, we want the pain to go away. When we're outside it, we want to take away the pain of those who we see suffering. Yet resilient people understand that stress/pain is a part of living that ebbs and flows. As hard as it is in the moment, it’s better to come to terms with the truth of the pain than to ignore it, repress it, or deny it. Acceptance is not about giving up and letting the stress take over, it's about leaning in to experience the full range of emotions and trusting that we will bounce back.
5. They’re willing to sit in silence. We are masters of distraction: T.V., overeating, abusing drugs, risky behaviour, gossip, etc. We all react differently to stress and trauma. Some of us shut down and some of us ramp up. Somewhere in the middle there is mindfulness-- being in the presence of the moment without judgement or avoidance. It takes practice, but it’s one of the purest and most ancient forms of healing and resilience-building.
6. They don’t have to have all the answers. The psyche has its own built-in protective mechanisms that help us regulate stress. When we try hard to find the answers to difficult questions in the face to traumatic events, that trying too hard can block the answers from arising naturally in their own due time. We can find strength in knowing that it's okay to not have it all figured out right now and trusting that we will gradually find peace and knowing when our mind-body-soul is ready.
7. They have a menu of self-care habits. They have a mental list (perhaps even a physical list) of good habits that support them when they need it most. We can all become self-care spotters in our life—noticing those things that recharge our batteries and fill our cup.
8. They enlist their team. The most resilient among us know how to reach out for help. They know who will serve as a listening ear and, let’s be honest, who won’t! Our team of supporters helps us reflect back what they see when we’re too immersed in overwhelm to witness our own coping.
9. They consider the possibilities. We can train ourselves to ask which parts of our current story are permanent and which can possibly change. Can this situation be looked at in a different way that I haven't been considering? This helps us maintain a realistic understanding that the present situation is being coloured by our current interpretation. Our interpretations of our stories will always change as we grow and mature. Knowing that today's interpretation can and will change, gives us the faith and hope that things can feel better tomorrow.
10. They get out of their head. When we're in the midst of stress and overwhelm, our thoughts can swirl with dizzying speed and disconnectedness. We can find reprieve by getting the thoughts out of our head and onto our paper. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.
If we can help to educate employees to consider and develop some or all of these characteristics we can help to build happier, more flexible and more effective teams and that in turn builds better business.
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