Although we cannot control all of the daily and lifetime events that can cause us stress, we can do things that can actually improve our general resilience to the negative effects of too much stress. Various assessment devices that test for vulnerability to stress generally focus on a few key factors. Personal factors that indicate higher resilience include your skills and positive habits, adequate social supports, good physical condition, a sense of well-being, assertiveness, and avoidance of ineffective coping methods such as using too much alcohol or drugs. Other resources available to you – such as family, friends, and a spiritual connection of some sort – can also increase your resilience. If your resilience to stress is relatively high, you will be better prepared to deal with the various stressful events that could impact upon you at any time. In contrast, less resilience suggests that you are more susceptible to the negative effects of stress. If you fall into this latter category, it is in your best interest to take additional steps to increase your resilience for better health and emotional strength. Check out some of the recommendations below to see what might work for you.
Healthy habits that will help build physical stamina and help you tolerate negative stress include:
- Eating at least one well-balanced meal per day;
- Getting adequate sleep most days of the week (6-8 hours);
- Having physical exertion/exercise a few times per week;
- Maintaining your weight at a relatively healthy level; and
- Avoiding excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and/or drugs.
Some social factors related to confidence and positive self-esteem will also help increase your resilience. This includes maintaining a network of friends, having at least one or more close friends or family members to confide in regarding personal issues, and being able to discuss problems and express feelings openly with significant others. We should all have at least one close friend that can be called in an emergency at 3:00 AM!
Finally, there are some lifestyle patterns that can also improve your resilience to stress. Maintain balance in your life with time to enjoy fun/leisure activities while you meet your normal responsibilities at school, at work, and at home. Try to attend important social events and to have some quiet time for yourself, even if it’s only a little time, to relax and defuse from your daily hassles and pressures.
In addition to these steps, you can improve resilience further by:
- Developing some sort of regular type of physical and mental relaxation such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness training, or relaxation exercises (see easy 5-minute relaxation and mindful meditations);
- Taking time to get away from heavy demands and pressures to unwind (e.g., develop weekend hobbies or interests, taking vacation breaks when possible etc.); and
- Trying to avoid taking on new challenges at work or home whenever you feel over-burdened by chronic stress. This means learning how to say “no.”
It is unrealistic for anyone to follow all of these recommendations. The important point here is to make as many of these changes as you can reasonably do at this time. Taking these preventive steps in the near future to improve resilience and regularly using positive coping strategies to manage typical stressors should provide a well-balanced approach to improving your coping skills and maintaining your health and well-being.
Tony Ciminero, Ph. D. is an author and clinical psychologist based in South Florida. His consulting firm (Ciminero & Associates, P.A.) provides crisis intervention services world-wide. His most recent book publications include the iCope book series. For additional resources, explore iCopeWithStress.com.