How to build resilience

Photo by Johnson Wang
Photo by Johnson Wang

There is enough stress in life for everyone – in private as well as in professional life. Stress makes us the hostage of our emotions, fogs our judgment and consumes a lot of energy. Different personalities deal with stress in different ways. Some of them have a violent temper, others prefer to pull the blanket over their heads. And then there are people who seem never to be stressed. They steer calmly through the waves of life and have inner stability – resilience. The good thing about it is that you can also learn this.

If you want to understand the mechanics behind it, take a look at neuroscience: Deep inside we still have our reptile brain, the amygdala, from primeval times. It took control of emergencies when the saber-toothed tiger attacked us. By releasing hormones, it mobilized our energy reserves for the upcoming battle. In the spirit of the struggle for survival, however, it only focuses on two essential tactics: fight or flight.

What was still sufficient for the encounter with a saber-toothed tiger, restricts us significantly in today’s social environment. Normally it increases the stress within us and others even more. Especially in a professional environment, both tactics are not necessarily effective – at least if we use them blinded by emotions.

It is, therefore, a matter of regaining control over our actions. But where does all the stress come from? The psychologist Dr. Mirriam Prieß has found an amazingly simple definition for this: “Stress arises when things don’t go the way you want them to”.

Sounds catchy and logical, but is also an incredibly powerful tool for releasing stress. In a stressful situation, you can simply ask yourself: “Why does it stress me so much?” Then I can consciously decide whether I want to keep up the internal pressure or perhaps change my expectations.

In any case, at this moment we switch from the animalistic amygdala to our cerebrum and can analyze the situation with the cortex. We can then consciously choose whether it’s appropriate to continue building up pressure and convince my conversation partner of the urgency of the matter. Or perhaps it’s wiser to adjust our expectations – instead of stressing ourselves and others.

There are many techniques to increase resilience. Some work with a combination of physical relaxation techniques such as MBSR. Meditations such as ZEN mainly train the decoupling between one’s self and emotions to be able to control them better. Sport is a good balance to the reduction of stress hormones. As my wife always says: “The main thing is that they move!”

In the end, it’s always about holding the rudder firmly in your hand – no matter whether the sun is shining in your face and a fresh, wonderful breeze is blowing around your nose, or whether a storm comes up that shakes you to the bones. Both are, in any case, part of the seafaring of life. The good thing is that every storm increases your experience and self-confidence – and thus your resilience.

What about you?

Do you get stressed a lot?

Have you found a balance outside work?

Have you found the balance in work?

Can you also learn techniques to let go of stress in the work environment?

Further good reads:

Dr. Mirriam Priess: Burnout kommt nicht nur vom Stress

Mindful Based Stress Reduction by John Kabat-Zinn

Daniel Goleman: Destructive Emotions – a Dialogue with the Dalai Lama

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