Boost Your Resilience When something stressful happens in your life, how equipped are you to deal with it? Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   May 01, 2014
Boost Your Resilience
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Professional Issues & Training / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   May 01, 2014
Boost Your Resilience
The ASHA Leader, May 2014, Vol. 19, 30-31. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.19052014.30
The ASHA Leader, May 2014, Vol. 19, 30-31. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.19052014.30
As I was preparing to write this column, someone posted a question on a LinkedIn women’s network asking readers what she should include in a work-life balance program for working moms. I actually cringed as I read most of the responses—learning to say “no,” setting aside “me” time and letting go of the guilt.
To my way of thinking, stress management just isn’t a particularly effective approach. First, it’s reactive and it puts the emphasis on the stress, which more often than not, we can do little about. Most of the stress management advice working moms receive is obvious, like learning to say “no.” Or it’s just not really actionable—like setting aside “me” time (unless you count hiding in the bathroom for two minutes). Or it’s eye-rollingly corny, like letting go of the guilt.
Working moms aren’t the only people struggling to juggle their responsibilities at work with their lives outside the office. Studies show the most stressful life challenges include caring for an adult or child with significant health issues, financial stress, and relationship stress. The good news is that the amount of stress we feel has more to do with how resilient we are and how we respond to stressful events than with the actual events.
Resilience is the capacity to adapt well to and recover quickly from adverse events. People who are resilient handle many situations others would find stressful without negative effects, and “bounce back” more quickly to their normal state, research indicates (see more on this from the American Psychological Association). Resilience is more a process than a trait. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed.
Buffers and magnifiers
Not long ago, I heard an interview with entrepreneur Alexandra Drane—an innovator in health technology and co-founder of Eliza Corp. She talked about buffers and magnifiers related to resilience. Buffers are positive coping factors that increase resilience. Magnifiers are negative coping behaviors that, if you practice them, will pull you down faster into a downward spiral.
Magnifiers include:
  • Sleep difficulties. Studies show that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to function optimally. When we don’t get enough sleep, our capacity to remember, learn and be creative is diminished. And, even more related to our resilience, we become less optimistic and less sociable. The Harvard Medical School offers a summary of research in this area.

  • Being sad or worried. Not to the level of being depressed, just feeling blue. We all experience periods where we are sad, listless and anxious about the future. However, it’s important that these moods are transient and that people return to feeling hopeful and optimistic.

  • Substance use. This magnifier does not have to be obvious, like drinking a bottle of wine before breakfast. Substance abuse could mean having four drinks instead of one at the end of the day. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and binging on food can seem like quick fixes when we are feeling stressed, but they erode our resilience. Read more from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The place to invest our resources is in stress-busting buffers, which include:
  • A strong peer network. Many studies show that caring and supportive relationships are mega resilience boosters. People with high levels of healthy social support even experience fewer negative chemical effects on the brain when stress hits. Learn more about this from the American Institute of Stress.

  • A strong sense of spirituality. Spirituality isn’t necessarily the same as religion. It refers to belonging to and serving something larger than the self, to being grounded in the self and able to settle oneself. One way to bolster your spirituality is meditation, which can increase focus, calmness, clarity and attention span. Read more from the Mayo Clinic.

  • Regular exercise. Pumping up feel-good chemicals like endorphins and mitigating negative ones like cortisol with regular exercise can significantly boost well-being. Find out more about its benefits to the brain in “Spark” by John J. Ratey. And read about how it can help you balance work and family in a Harvard Business Review blog post.

We can’t plan for many of the stressful situations we will experience, but we can build our resilience along the way to greatly improve how we handle them when they do occur. If you want to boost your resiliency, search for resources in your workplace and community. Look for things like support groups, an employee assistance program, yoga or meditation classes, and a gym with group fitness sessions.
By the way, that LinkedIn post I mentioned garnered 211 responses. It serves as an example of how much people want to connect with peers that are similarly situated. Don’t try to go it alone.
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May 2014
Volume 19, Issue 5