Dr. Moira Mulhern is co-founder and CEO of Turning Point: The Center for Hope and Healing. For the past 18 years, Dr. Mulhern has been designing and teaching stress management programs for local hospitals and companies.
We live with too much stress. And that trend is likely to increase. Even new technologies that were meant to make life easier actually keep us "plugged in" long after the average workday is over. The result: Less recovery time.
The antidote? Resilience! A term that has been used recently on national television to describe the "strongest" presidential candidates, "resilience" is the ability to bounce back from stress. It is the ability to draw on resources, and to recover quickly from negative experiences. Resilient people can even make stress work "for" them, strengthening them. It comes naturally to some, but you can learn and practice it. And, a small increase in resilience can go a long way in making life better.
Two important scientific studies have identified some of the aspects of resilience. The Harvard Study intensively examined students’ coping styles into advanced old age. The patterns that resulted in healthy, happy, and successful lives included:
1. Looking ahead and preparing for predictable stressors
2. Putting things aside once nothing more could be done
3. Avoiding being “overwhelmed” by stressors
4. Keeping a sense of humor
5. Taking the needs of others seriously
In the Johns Hopkins study, subjects were once again students – this time at Johns Hopkins Medical School. The study tracked them from their late teens through old age. Researchers linked nervous tension, worry, anxiety, and anger under stress to premature disease and death.
Concentration camp survivors teach powerful lessons about resilience. Aaron Antonovsky, a researcher in Israel, studied Nazi concentration camp survivors – and found that people who coped well had a "sense of coherence." They could make sense of their lives and commit to something that they valued. They also did what they could to develop a sense of control and choice even under horrific circumstances. For example, Victor Frankl, a doctor and camp survivor, said that his goal became to deny the Nazis THEIR goal of de-humanizing him. He also reported that people who lacked some sense of meaning in that experience were more likely to die in the camps.
Among other important resilience factors are optimism and hope. "Optimism" refers to expecting the best. It also means realizing that bad outcomes are often due to circumstances that can change. And, it means giving yourself credit for good outcomes. Pessimists not only expect bad outcomes but often see them as the result of permanent flaws in themselves. Although similar to optimism, "hope," as studied by scientists, also includes the ability to set goals and to find pathways to those goals. Hope has been shown to have a positive effect on health.
The Turning Point programs are based on a comprehensive model of resilience created by Dr. Charles L. Sheridan. I will discuss this model and begin sharing some of those resilience techniques in our next article. I have taught these resilience techniques to our participants at Turning Point as well as in different companies in Kansas City. In just six weeks we have seen significant improvements in resilience scores. It is not uncommon for people to report that they have more energy, are happier, less anxious, less critical of themselves and others, and handle stressful situations in a much better way.
Whether you're managing an illness or the challenges of a busy life, you can learn to survive and thrive. Tune in to this series!