When Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, lost her husband suddenly and unfortunately, she “dove into the research on resilience”. It helped her overcome her grief and learn to be more “grateful than ever before”. In 2017, two years after her husband’s death, Sandberg announced that Facebook would extend bereavement leave and give employees “paid family leave so they can care for sick family members.”
More companies, without waiting for tragedies, must emulate Facebook’s thoughtful initiative. But what Sandberg did - and what we all must do - is find ways to combat situations which leave us comatose with fear, anxiety, grief and stress.
Resilience is the process of adapting to anything that can be a source of stress such as a tragedy or adversity, and learning how to bounce back, like Sandberg did.
When Dr Steven M. Southwick and Dr. Charney conducted interviews with hundreds of stress-resilient individuals like special forces instructors, prisoners of war, 9/11 survivors, and civilians from all walks of life, they found 10 common resilience factors in all of them. These include exercising, being optimistic, finding purpose, spirituality, having role-models, and others.
I personally build my mental resilience through athleticism, especially long-distance running. But one of the most interesting underlying factor identified through the interviews is knowing how to ‘practise stress’.
What if you could immunise yourself against stress? Doctors and scientists know this as stress inoculation. It’s like readying yourself to become resistant to certain stressors just as a vaccination protects you from certain diseases. Start by imagining high stress-inducing situations and explore how you can prepare yourself for them.
While ancient philosophers have practised imagining the worst-possible scenarios in order to learn how to deal with them, one can start small. Think of situations that stress you out on a day-to-day basis such as public speaking or confrontation. If this sounds like rehearsing for stress, it actually is. With adequate rehearsal and thinking ahead, we can learn how to face stress instead of being alarmed or cornered by a new stressful situation.
But don’t just stop at facing it. Think about what you can do to avoid stress and increase productivity. Say, you are working on a project that is as crucial as it is frightening. Now, think ahead to when you’ve completed a significant chunk of it. Try to imagine all the possible ways it could get messed up - both at an individual and team level. Once you’ve identified the challenges that are sure to stress you out in the future, start thinking of solutions. Not only facing stress but proactively anticipating it and dealing with it is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Managing stress begins with changing your perception about stress.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a path-breaking study in 2012. They observed how 28,000 people perceived stress in their lives. They were asked questions around how much stress they thought they were experiencing: a lot, moderate, little, and no stress at all. This was followed up with another question: How much effect does stress have on your health? A lot, some, hardly any or none at all.
The researchers found startling results when they looked at death rates in the study group over nine years: The study, popularised by Kelly McGonigal in her TedTalk, found that merely being stressed is not what’s linked with premature death. Instead, it was those people who were stressed and believed that it was taking a toll on their health who experienced a 43 percent increased risk of premature death.
This means that the next time you find yourself worrying about your shooting blood pressure, take steps to control it but also change the way you see it. Instead of panicking, tell yourself that it’s my body’s response to ensure I can better deal with this situation.
Once upon a time Buddha soothed a disciple who meditated diligently but was disheartened with his spiritual progress. The Buddha reminded the young monk of the time he played the lute. It was only when the lute was neither too taut nor loose was it playable. Buddha’s advice of finding harmony, as employing too much energy can lead to restlessness and too little is an invitation for listlessness, is eternal. It’s a lesson that uplifts me personally. Through careful introspection, setting goals and reassessing our purpose and priorities, each of us can find harmony and beat stress in life.
No one is above the humble pen and paper. While writing itself or maintaining a journal is not going to solve the problem, structuring and forming sentences on paper can help you re-evaluate challenges and get in touch with your deepest, innermost thoughts and feelings.
Finally, keep in mind that not all stress is bad, in fact, it can help you focus and excel in your work. It’s the unreleased and continued stress that can be toxic with severe health consequences.
Stress might not be optional anymore but compromising your happiness and productivity to it, is.
(This article is from Thrive Global)