Do you sweat the small stuff or feel chronically stressed? If so, you're not alone. According to a 2008 national survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), 77 percent of Americans reported having physical symptoms due to stress, and 73 percent claimed to be experiencing stress-related psychological problems.
Stress is an emotional and physical reaction caused by our responses to life challenges. There is no universally accepted definition of stress and each person reacts differently, based on their innate personality traits, early conditioning and life experiences. What is overwhelming for one person may be exciting to another, while that same situation may have little impact on someone else.
In small amounts, stress can be a positive impetus. It can inspire productivity and motivate you to complete your goals. But chronic stress can have many adverse effects, including irritability, depression, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, depletion of the immune system and even life-threatening illness.
The best antidote to stress is resilience. Resilience means having the ability to respond to change or adversity proactively and resourcefully. It involves a process of consciously drawing on the beliefs, behaviors and skills that can help you respond to challenges effectively, and move beyond them as a stronger person.
Findings from the Kauai Longitudinal Study showed that resilient people did not passively react to negative life circumstances, but proactively took action to achieve positive outcomes. Instead of staying stuck in feelings of anger, fear, or anxiety, step back and ask yourself, "What reaction am I having, how do I want to respond, and what outcomes do I want?" Next, brainstorm possible courses of action, determine those most likely to produce desired outcomes, prioritize your action steps, then move into action.
Below are some additional tips to develop greater resilience and to help you manage stress.
Reframe change from a threat to a natural part of life. Instead of resisting change, embrace it as a natural progression of life. Every time you find yourself holding on to what was, say to yourself, "I release the past, cooperate fully with today and enthusiastically embrace tomorrow." The foundation of resilience is accepting change as an inevitable part of life. Fighting it not only produces frustration, but it keeps you from taking action and moving forward.
Identify the opportunities inherent in the challenge. There is much truth in the old adage of what does not kill us makes us stronger. To help you turn a stressor into an opportunity, write down the specific situation causing you to feel stressed. For example, "I'm worried I'm going to lose my job." Next, write down how you can turn your concern into an opportunity. For example, you could get your resume updated and start networking to find that fulfilling job you've been dreaming about for the last two years.
Develop greater awareness and self-mastery. The more awareness and self-mastery you have, the greater your resilience. Personal development has many benefits, one of which is gaining greater clarity about your reactive patterns and how they may be negatively impacting your life. Finding good resources to change habitual, limiting patterns will not only transform your life, but it will provide you with effective life skills to draw upon in difficult times.
Build a strong inner support system. Despite the deluge of information about the link between diet and health, most people don't actively embrace that they are what they eat. Your body runs on fuel in the form of food, and if the fuel you put in your body is not healthy, you can't expect your body to produce optimal wellness. A diet low in nutrients can deplete your reserves of vitamins and minerals, making it even more difficult to manage stress. Reduce or eliminate caffeine, sugar and alcohol, and replace fatty meats and processed foods with fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and fish, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Change is part of the human condition and no one is exempt from emotional pain and adversity. Developing resilience is a critical key to not only accepting and meeting a life challenge head on, but being able to get to the other side of it with greater wisdom and strength.
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Lauren Mackler is a coach, psychotherapist, and author of the international best-seller, SOLEMATE: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life. A frequent commentator on CNN and FOX, her work has been covered widely in the media. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, read her blog, and visit her web site.