Continuous, intense levels of stress may be a huge factor in our lives today but our resilience can help us manage it well and keep it from damaging our health.
What is resilience and what makes you resilient?
Resilience is your ability to bounce back from pain, hardship, failure and stress.
The World Health Organization states that resilience is the capacity to bounce back from difficult experiences. It adds that resilience includes coping with great stress caused by problematic and toxic relationships in the family or at the workplace. The American Psychological Association defines individual level resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or threats.
Understanding what stress is and its role in our lives
It's important to remember that stress is your body’s physical, mental or emotional response to some form of change. It’s normal but increased and continuous levels of stress can be damaging.
The human body is designed to experience and react to stress. Without some level of stress humans would not thrive or succeed.
From a biological perspective, stress is an alarm response in the body that calls on specific hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones make us more alert and ready to face the challenge at hand. It’s called an adaptive response - − and refers to the ability of a cell, tissue, or organism to better resist stress damage by being exposed to a lesser amount of stress before that.
In most instances this response helps you to cope with life’s challenges and in that sense stress can be positive – keeping us alert, motivated, learning and ready to avoid danger.
But, stress has a negative effect on you when you face intense and continuous stress which overwhelms your adaptive response. This chronic stress can have far reaching consequences.
Signs that you could be experiencing chronic stress
Chronic stress presents with a range of emotional and physical symptoms, such as:
- Chronic headaches
- Chronic backache
- Abdominal pain
- Increases in blood pressure and heart rate
Other effects of chronic stress
Chronic stress also lowers your self-control and opens you up to unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, poor diet and excessive drinking. Beyond a certain point, stress can also trigger the onset of serious mental health problems. It is estimated that three out of four visits to doctors are due to stress-related problems.
What brings on stress
Your stress can be brought on by the everyday challenges of heavy traffic or an inbox filled with urgent emails. You can also feel deeper levels of stress when confronted with difficult situations, like financial hardship, losing your job, divorce, and the loss of a family member. Greater social issues like political conflicts, violence in our community, poverty and inequality stresses an entire society or nation. This can even have an impact on people who have not been directly affected by the violence or poverty.
Add it all up and this accumulated stress can leave you struggling to deal with life.
The amount of stress you experience is unique to you and depends on the form of stress, how your mind assesses the level of threat and your natural coping abilities.
What are the effects of stress?
You can't always avoid stressful situations and some kinds of stress are good for you. For example, eustress, also known as beneficial stress, is a healthy experience of stress that adapts to your needs and may encourage personal growth, productivity and motivation. It’s the kind of stress you get from trying out a difficult new workout, learning a new language, buying a house and such.
However, negative, unhealthy stress can have a harmful effect on us and increase our risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cognitive problems
- Mental health challenges (including depression and anxiety)
Types of unhealthy stress
Negative forms of stress include:
- Financial difficulties
- Abusive relationships
- Unhealthy family dynamics
- Poor health
There are also many stressors that aren’t as visible but their effects build up over time. These include frequently being stuck in traffic, fast paced work, deadlines and work-life demands that are always increasing and the strain of difficult relationships.
Look out for these early warning signs of the effects of unhealthy stress
- Physical signs such as frequent or recurring infections, headaches, back pain and palpitations
- Emotional signs such as irritability, lack of motivation and feeling anger
- A turn towards negative dynamics in our relationships with others
How to build your resilience and increase your tolerance to stress
We know that you can't always prevent life’s negative stressors and you can’t avoid the experience of stress. So how do you take care of your wellbeing? By being more resilient!!
Building and practising resilience will ease the effects of stress and improve your overall sense of wellbeing. Resilience is not always an automatic response to stress. You need to be proactive and intentional about developing your capacity for resilience to stress.
Be dedicated and take the steps to build your reliance
Building resilience takes practice, just like building and developing any muscle’s strength and stamina. Be patient and remember that slow and steady change may help to ease life’s challenges in a sustainable way. Be intentional, be mindful, be proactive and ask for help in practising resilience.
Start by making small changes in your behaviour, little changes to how you approach the stressors in your life. Remember that every person is unique. So you have your own needs and preferences when facing dynamic situations.
Finding and using tools to build your resilience
To find the tools that you can work into your life to build resilience, you must:
- Make a plan to deal with the issue or issues causing you to feel stressed. This applies to anything , from financial issues to the relationships in your life
- Know yourself – know your personal warning signs and triggers for stress.
- Practise mindfulness and relaxation techniques to manage the effects of stress and increase your overall sense of wellbeing.
Tools and techniques
- Use the following relaxation techniques:
- Deep breathing
- Guided imagery
- Exercise regularly
- Eat healthily
- Develop good sleeping habits and ensure your sleep quality and quantity are at their best
- Find a sense of purpose and meaning. This will help give you context and hope, so that you see that your life is about more than the current situation you are facing.
- Set meaningful goals
- Organise and plan to help you to meet your deadlines.
- Practise gratitude. This may improve your overall wellbeing, and help to relieve the effects of stress. You have control over how you engage with and manage your stressors.
- Learn and grow from your mistakes. Failing mindfully can be a powerful tool in your personal growth, and in building your ability to bounce back.
Ask for help
- Don't be afraid to ask for help. There is much support available when you reach out to:
- Your doctor, therapist or psychiatrist
- Your employee wellness programme
- Your HR manager
Social relationships promote wellbeing
There is compelling evidence that social relationships are vital for promoting wellbeing. They also act as buffers against stress.
Social support pays a key role in many stories about people who have survived stressors like trauma, and more. The value of family, friends, community and other meaningful relationships may be the foundation in helping to build your resilience.