Resilience: One of Stress’ Mortal Enemies

by Dec 29, 2017

Why Is It That Some People Are More Affected by Stress Than Others?

To answer this question we could dive deep into the scientific literature, but because this is a short and sweet blog post you’re likely reading on your mobile device, we’ll keep the answer simple. Resilience is one of the keys to winning the never-ending war with stress. And -oh yes!- it’s never-ending. Resilience, simply put, is the ability to bounce back and recover from the inevitable stressors and changes that life brings us. Picture an old oak tree in the landscape of our mind. Do you see it? Now imagine how many blizzards and storms this tree has weathered, and yet here it is. The tree still stands after all this time. The tree hasn’t cracked under stressors because it’s branches and limbs are flexible, they bend under stress. If the branches and limbs instead attempted to rigidly try and keep their positions despite the forceful, stressful winds, they would have cracked. This is how the tree can continue to grow. Resilience is the ability to bounce back and recover from change and high stress. How does one learn to bend and grow with life’s inevitable changes and stressors? Resilient people share these three closely related traits commonly known as the 3 C’s:

  • Challenge
  • Commitment
  • Control

Let’s take a look at how these traits allow resilient individuals to gain an advantage in the never-ending war with stress.

What Are the Characteristics of a Resilient Individual?

Resilient individuals see change as a normal, expected part of life. Instead of viewing these changes as threatening the individual’s security or survival, they view the change and stress in life as a challenge. People with resilience see these events as a chance to grow rather than seeing them as dangerous.

Resilient individuals make an intentional commitment to their daily lives. They have taken the time to become familiar with their deepest values in life – the people and things that are most important to them, that matter the most. These people believe in who they are. Resilience in action means truly experiencing the bond that you have with the people and activities at work and at home that give your life meaning. When fear, boredom, self-doubt, or hopelessness shows up, resilient individuals commune with their well-developed value system and make a commitment to acting in accordance with those values.

Awareness almost always comes before change.

Resilient individuals are profoundly aware of the things that they have control over and the things that they have no control over. For example, one does not have control over the self-doubt that shows up in one’s mind (the nervous system offers up this object in consciousness – this thought – “I don’t think I can do this”) or the self-doubt that shows up in one’s body (the nervous system increases one’s heart rate – outside of conscious control). A resilient individual knows that they cannot control this, however, they can control their response to said phenomena arising in the nervous system. In other words, the focus of control is the internal response to the internal phenomena. They can internally and intentionally choose what their next action is (ideally, an action in line with their values). These people do not give their responsibility away to others or feel like a victim. They take control where it is available. ( Not like in the “control freak” sort of way 😉 ) 

The 3 Types of Battles in the Never-Ending War with Stress

Now that we know how the 3 C’s help a resilient person take the upper hand in the never-ending war with stress, it will be useful for us to take a look at the 3 different types of battles that this never-ending war is composed of. The natural changes and stressors that life throws at us can be grouped into three categories:

  • Daily hassles
  • Ongoing difficulties
  • Traumatic events

Daily hassles are the short-term things that are temporarily occurring throughout your day such as traffic, interruptions, messes at home, school, or at work, spam emails, solicitors, etc. The pile-up of these daily hassles can do us in if we’re not mindful of the 3 C’s. Ongoing difficulties are the long-term things that never seem to go away such as having difficulties in your relationships, excessive pressure at home, school, or at work, not spending enough time with children/family/friends, financial difficulties, or even providing care for a dependent loved-one. Finally, one of the most difficult battles in the never-ending war with stress is the battle with traumatic events. Traumatic events can take an exceptional toll on the nervous system. These events can deal a potent blow to our sense of stability and security; events such as injury, divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or the loss of a relationship with someone important to you.

The first step you can take to winning the war is to enhance your awareness of the current changes and stressors in your life. Awareness almost always comes before change. How would you like to enhance your awareness? Is it possible that you’re currently not dealing with stress in the healthiest, most effective way? Sure it is. I have a challenge for you: can you make a commitment right here and now to begin to develop a new way of noticing and responding to old stressors? Of course you can!

But will you commit?

Notice that feeling that comes up right now as you read my challenge to you.

You did not author that feeling.

But you do have control over how you respond to that feeling. Remember that the single most important thing for your success in winning the never-ending war with stress is to be open to the possibility that you are more resilient than you think, and to commit to putting the 3 C’s into practice in your daily life, one day at a time. Do not underestimate the power of incremental progress. Here’s to making 2018 a year full of growth, prosperity, and commitment to embodying our values.

Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.

Latest Post