Posts Tagged ‘stress’

How to Stay Mentally Tough When You Face Difficult Stressors

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Guest post by Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

Stress is on the rise! In the latest (2015) version of the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, 78% of respondents reported at least one symptom of stress (like feeling overwhelmed) and 34% reported increases in stress since the previous year. For many stress caused mental health problems like worry or depression, difficulty sleeping, or unhealthy behaviors. One-quarter (25 percent) of those employed report snapping at or being short with co-workers because of stress. If you can’t handle your stress, you are at risk of sabotaging your health and damaging your relationships at work or with customers, which will interfere with your longer-term success.

Calming down your stressed out feelings is only one aspect of managing stress and it may not be the best strategy for every situation.  To most effectively master stress, you need to be self-aware about your own reactions. You also need to be able to focus and think clearly about your values and goals and to sustain attention and motivation in the face of roadblocks and failures. Finally and most importantly, your mindset about stress makes all the difference. Learning how to reframe stress more positively – as a challenge with potential for growth and learning – can help you feel more confident and excited about the possibilities. Building the four qualities of mental toughness: emotional competency, resilience, willpower, and attitude can set you up for success when stress inevitably hits you!

Stress and Emotional Competency

Stress sends your brain into “fight or flight” mode, which sets into play a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This response is very rapid and sometimes occurs before the conscious parts of the brain even know what’s going on. “Fight or flight” can trigger impulsive, behaviors like screaming at co-workers because your body is gearing up to fight a threat. This is where emotional competency comes in. You can’t stop “fight or flight,” but you can learn to identify when it’s happening and take a mindful pause before reacting automatically. Being mindful means being able to notice and describe what’s happening in your mind and body – observing rather than absorbing the stress. Mindfulness enhances your emotional competence because, over months and years, it actually changes the parts of the brain involved in the stress response. It also helps you find a more compassionate view of the situation, which helps you feel less stressed. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help strengthen this response.

Stress and Resilience

Resilience is another part of mental toughness that can help you deal more effectively with stress.  One aspect of resilience is “grit,” a concept defined by researcher Angela Duckworth. Grit means being able to tolerate discomfort and setbacks because you are driven by your passion for long-term goals,  Research studies in college students, salespeople, and Westpoint cadets shows that grit is just as or more important than intelligence and mental ability in determining long-term success. To build grit, you have to know what values and goals are most important to you and why. Stress makes you reactive in the moment, but grit can help you step back and take a long-term view. Think about your passion for building your business or your organization’s mission and let that empower you to plough through the difficulties.  In one study (Brooks,2014) subjects who felt anxious about public speaking were told to relabel their anxious feelings as excitement while another group was told to try to calm down.  Those in the “excitement”group felt more excited and actually performed better at the speaking task. The anxiety and adrenaline surges involved in “fight or flight” can actually fuel performance if they are managed effectively.

Stress and Willpower

One of the challenges of the stressors we face these days is that they can be chronic and that the outcomes are often at least partially out of our control. Retaining customers, making sales, and getting promotions involve making consistent effort to work hard and build relationships over long periods of time. This is where willpower comes in. Staying organized and focused on your goals means being able to manage your body’s “fight to flight” response so it doesn’t “hijack” your brain’s attention.  Time spent worrying about things you can’t control can be counterproductive and get in the way of getting things done.  Willpower means that you learn to direct your brain’s focus of attention, rather than letting automatic stress reactivity distract you. Willpower does not occur in a vacuum – you can deliberately organize your environment to sustain willpower (e.g., by programming reminders into your phone, having a vision board,  or putting your running shoes where you’ll see them).

Stress and Attitude

Research shows that your attitude towards your stress can have as much influence as the actual events in determining how well things turn out.  In a study by Crum, Salovey, and Achor (2013) the researchers used a questionnaire to assess whether people saw stress as damaging or as having some benefits.  Those who saw stress as damaging were more likely to focus on avoiding feeling stressed, which led them to miss out on opportunities to learn and grow. In their study, students who saw stress as damaging were less likely to want to hear feedback after they gave a speech. In another study (Keller et al., 2012), people who saw stress as damaging their health and who also experienced a lot of stress had a 43% increase in premature death. In a third study, participants who were able to reframe their stress reactions as functional had an improved cardiovascular response to stress and were less likely to think about negative aspects of the situation (Jamieson, Nock & Mendes, 2012). The take home message is that you need to think of your body’s stressful arousal as gearing yourself up for a challenge you can master, rather than something that threatens to derail you.

Stress is an inevitable part of life but mentally tough people know how to befriend their stress and use it to their advantage.  To learn more about your brain’s stress response and how to develop resilience, read my new book The Stress-Proof Brain, released in February 2017 and available on Amazon.

http://amzn.to/2kNwRqC

Melanie Greenberg is a practicing psychologist in Marin County California and an expert on managing stress in life, work, and relationships using proven strategies from neuroscience, mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral approaches, and positive psychology. She is the author of The Mindful Self-Express blog for Psychology Today (8 million+ page views). Her new book. The Stress-Proof Brain was released last week by New Harbinger. It received a starred positive review from Library Journal and is an Amazon bestseller in Neuropsychology and Stress-Management.

© 2017  All rights reserved.

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LaRae Quy is the author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

6 Ways FBI Agents Increase Resilience

Monday, December 5th, 2016

In today’s competitive culture, the ability to increase resilience has become a critical skill because it takes more than talent to succeed.

Increase Resilience

The ability to pick ourselves up when life knocks us down is called resilience. As a new FBI agent, I learned to be bold, take risks, and put myself out there—even when scared to death of what I might face.

Adversity creates many forms of stress—whether it’s the stress that comes scaling a business, expanding into a new market, or juggling the demands of family.

The way in which we overcome adversity determines how we will achieve success—LaRae Quy

More than talent, more than education, more than experience—the ability to bounce back from setbacks determines who will succeed and who will fail. That is true in the classroom, in sports, and in the boardroom.

Here are 6 ways to increase your resilience:

1) INCREASE RESILIENCE: REINTERPRET NEGATIVE EVENTS

Setbacks are a natural part of life. Resilience requires mental toughness because it is the ability to recover quickly from adversity, no matter your situation.

Nip negative emotions and reactions in the bud, when they first appear. This is when they are the weakest—LaRae Quy

Cold cases are those in which the leads have grown cold, but nothing motivates an FBI case agent as much as looking into the face of an innocent victim who trusts and expects them to find the answer.

To reinterpret negative events, agents reappraise the facts of the case to find new clues. As a result, they become wiser and more resilient investigators. They are better able to see new possibilities in how the case can move forward.

Quit is not a word used in FBI investigations.

2) INCREASE RESILIENCE: ENHANCE POSITIVE EMOTIONS

successful-business-woman

increase resilience

Resilience is often described as bouncing back from whatever adversity you are facing; but sometimes, the only way out is through. So grit-up and keep moving forward.

Optimism and positive thinking are two different things: optimism is believing that your circumstances will change in the future—and for the better. Positive thinking is not believing that your circumstances will change; instead, it is believing that you will prevail in your circumstances.

FBI are resilient because they are positive thinkers who do not look at their world through rose-colored glasses. Their buoyant outlook overpowers stress and sticky situations because they are confident they will find a way to get through the difficulty that lies ahead.

3) INCREASE RESILIENCE: GET PHYSICALLY FIT

exercise

increase resilience

Exercise can lengthen your attention span, strengthen your decision making abilities, enhance memory, and empower you to handle stress.

Exercise can also enhance resilience because it activates genes for proteins that promote growth and repair of neurons damaged by stress.

When we get physically fit, it boosts endorphins as well as neurotransmitters responsible for elevating mood and suppresses the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

FBI agents are required to maintain physical fitness standards through their career and are given time during the week to work out. Once a year, all agents are given a field FIT test to gauge their body fat levels as well as pushups, sit-ups, and a two mile run.

4) INCREASE RESILIENCE: STICK WITH YOUR TRIBE

Teamwork - puppies

Friendships are important; they can lift you up, provide security, and prevent slip-ups in both business and life.

As Sebastian Junger wrote in his book, Tribe, “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding–“tribes.” This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.”

A strong psychological thread within the Bureau is the concept of the “FBI family.” FBI employees will close ranks around one of their own if the individual is targeted or harmed in some way.

The strong and unequivocal support of others is powerful because it increases an individual’s self-confidence, provides a safety net for those times when they fall, and enhances their belief that they can overcome obstacles.

Bonding strongly with others in a tribe provides greater security than if we strike out on our own.

5. INCREASE RESILIENCE: IMITATE OTHERS

Adversity - ducks

increase resilience

Look for people in your circles who have learned how to recover from hardship quickly so you can learn from them.

Research by psychologist Albert Bandura indicates that imitating the behavior of those whom we admire provides us with resilient role models. The “fake it until you make it” proverb will work but with a couple of important caveats:

1) First, you cannot look to others to make you competent, knowledgable, and confident—you must own those qualities. There is a big difference between imitating someone and trying to be an imposter.

2) Second, the individual whom you are imitating must possess the resilience qualities you admire and they must allow you to walk alongside so you can imbibe those qualities.

All new FBI agents are assigned a training agent, and this individual is often the one whom the new agent will imitate as they learn their job. I found informal mentors were also a great way to learn how to do something by simply watching and understanding how they developed their resilient qualities.

6) INCREASE RESILIENCE: STAND UP TO STRESS

stress

increase resilience

A resilient individual is not someone who avoids stress; rather, it is someone who learns how to tame it.

For years, psychologists distinguished between good stress, or “eustress” which is caused by positive experiences, and bad stress which is caused by the bad stuff. A new body of research is suggesting that stress is not bad for you unless you believe it is bad for you. Seeing stressors as challenges rather than threats invites physiological responses that can improve thinking and cause less physical wear and tear.                 

FBI agents often compare “war stories” with colleagues, and since we all shared these experiences, we treated the experiences as stimulating challenges in our job to be overcome. However, if I shared these same stories with friends or neighbors, they treated them as potential threats to my safety. The difference in response created the tribe mentality (as described above in #4) as well as reminding me that my outlook determined whether the experience was an exciting challenge, or a threat to be avoided.

How have you increased your resilience when confronted with roadblocks?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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4 Tips On How To Handle Stress

Monday, June 13th, 2016

As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I learned more about how to handle stress in those four years than at any other time in my life. The constant demand from the media for information that was timely, on-message, and accurate was relentless.

stress

Interestingly enough, it was also the period in my life when I felt the most energized and invigorated. After twenty years as an investigator, I needed the boost of adrenaline that a fast-paced environment gave me.

As entrepreneurs, sales executives, and leaders, you are stressed by deadlines, responsibilities, and your ever-increasing workload. You may be wondering how to handle stress and worried that it is interfering with your job performance and even your health.

The conventional wisdom about stress warns that too much of it can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other health hazards. Although non-stop stress can be harmful, recent research is providing new insight into how measured doses of stress can actually enhance our performance.

Our brains are hard-wired so that it is difficult for us to take action until we feel stress or anxiety. Mentally strong people are able to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in optimal levels to achieve top performance.

Here are 4 tips to help you handle stress and keep stress levels in check:

1. DEVELOP THE RIGHT MINDSET

In the past, psychologists believed that it was the amount of stress that was bad for a person’s health. But in recent studies it’s become clear that the amount of stress is a surprisingly poor predictor of whether it will leave you better, or worse, off.

New research from Yale University and Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, reveal that people can be divided into two groups:

  1. those who believe that stress-is-debilitating, and
  2. those who believe that stress-is-enhancing.

The Yale Study found that people who had stress-is-enhancing mindsets reported having better health, greater life satisfaction, and superior work performance.

Stress produces cortisol—too much or too little cortisol release in response to a stressor can have negative physiological consequences.

The Yale research, in combination with Achor’s findings, paint a very clear picture:

Stress is killing you if you believe it is. Studies confirm that people who die from stress do not die from stress itself, but from the belief that stress was bad for them. Those who do not believe it is harmful experience no negative side effects on their health.

If you can use mental toughness to manage your mindset and handle stress, you will see challenges you face as opportunities to grow and learn. In addition, you will be both happier and more productive.

2. USE SELF-TALK TO HANDLE STRESS

We all know that anxiety can hurt performance and most of us have been in situations when we were anxious, couldn’t think straight, and experienced temporary lapses in memory.

Too much cortisol and our performance withers, but people who are calm experience too little cortisol and their performance also withers.

The key is learning how to manage your emotions with self-talk and using the right words when controlling your thoughts.

In a study published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people who told themselves that they were excited about the challenge ahead of them performed significantly better than those who told themselves that they were calm.

If you are excited about your job or task, you will be more persuasive, competent, confident, and persistent. You will grit-up with the mental toughness to change the way you label your feelings and emotions—from stressful to exciting. This helps create a shift toward a more positive mindset.

3. BE GRATEFUL

Taking the time to be grateful lessens anxiety because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Professor Robert Emmons conducted a study at the University of California, Davis, of over 1,000 people, from ages 8 to 80. They found that those who cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced a host of benefits:

  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated

4. REIGNITE THE INNER FIRE

The higher levels of stress that I experienced as the FBI spokesperson brought me closer to understanding what fired up my heart. Because of the constant deadlines, I found myself doing two things:

1) Focusing on what I liked to do, and 2) delaying until later or delegating to others the things I didn’t like to do.

One of the things I loved to do was gather stories from other agents and then work with reporters on getting those stories out to the public. I delayed as long as possible doing the record checks and going through files for details of an investigation.

When I created stories around FBI best practices and shared them with others, I knew that the audience would benefit from the life lessons that twirled all around me.

The stress imposed upon me by my job forced me to prioritize, and in those priorities I found where my heart was leading: I wanted to write and share the lessons I learned from my time as an FBI agent with others.

For stress to be beneficial, it’s important to find meaning in your work . Research has shown that workers in high-stress jobs like air-traffic controllers and intensive-care nurses thrive under heavy stress if they are positive about the future and find their work meaningful.

You cannot be stressed out and empowered at the same time! Be mentally strong and keep your anxiety from taking over.

When has stress enabled you to perform at your best?

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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Science-Based Reasons Men And Women Look At Risk Differently

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

FBI agents are trained to take risk seriously. Every arrest is planned from many angles with emphasis given to what can go wrong when agents are faced with the unexpected.

pablo

I took part in several arrests, and while there was always a risk associated with carrying a weapon every day, the biggest risk came from friendly fire—that is, the supervisors who could change your life with a single stroke of their pen and transfer you, without warning, to another squad.

I lived in fear of this risk because agents have no choice in their assignment. From day one this message was hammered into our thinking—the needs of the Bureau come first. Always.

When success also meant survival, landing on my feet when confronted with the unknown was essential. Over time, I learned to look at risks as opportunities to be exploited, whether it was a messy investigation or new squad assignment.

Real success was walking away from uncomfortable situations with more savvy and skill than when I started.

Every successful entrepreneur and leader understands that risk involves change and moving outside their comfort zone. In today’s competitive and fast changing workplace, they can never hope to achieve success unless they’re willing to embrace change and risk the discomfort of failure.

Conventional wisdom says that women take fewer risks than men, but is it true? Much of the difference can be attributed to the way boys and girls are socialized as children. In general, boys are reared to shoot from the hip early on. Girls learn about risk differently. Risky behavior, girls are told, is dangerous.

If conditioning is partly to blame, then reconditioning is part of the answer. Adopting a “Gritup” mentality can make all the difference.

Research finds that men and women use different strategies, and different parts of their brain, when making choices on how to keep moving toward goals.

Here are 3 science-based reasons men and women look at risk differently:

1. Risk: Stress Makes A Difference

A recent study by Mara Mather and Nichole R. Lighthall found that male risk-taking tends to increase under stress, while female risk taking tends to decrease under stress. The researchers discovered that there are gender differences in brain activity involved in computing risk and preparing for action. This is important given the stressful nature of our work lives today.

CAUTION TIP: Beware of stereotyping men as too reckless and women too cautious. Instead, when in stressful situations it might make more sense for men and women to work together to make smarter risk-taking decisions.

2. Risk: Immediate vs Long-Term Rewards

A review published in Behavioral Brain Research discovered that the majority of women in the study tended to focus on immediate rewards while the majority of men in the study tended to focus on long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Men may appear to be stubborn and unwilling to change course once a strategy is put into action, but his brain engages the top, dorsal area of the orbitofrontal cortex which focuses on long term rewards. Most male brains seek out irregular patterns of behavior that will provide them with the competitive advantage they need to set goals that will produce long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Women may appear to be feckless and unable to stick with a strategy, but her brain engages the medial part of this region which is involved in identifying regular patterns and immediate rewards. Her brain is able to assimilate new information that enables her to make adjustments to strategies that will lead to rewards accordingly.

3. Risk: Bait-And-Switch

An article published in Scientific American Mind explains why women are more comfortable with switching strategies mid-task, something that is difficult for men because men tend to engage the part of their brain linked to long-term rewards.

CAUTION TIP: Women may appear to uncertain or worried about making errors, but her brain is taking the time to gather more information. In fact, it is a woman’s detailed exploration that makes them more attuned to change. They can clue into changes quicker than their male counterparts.

CAUTION TIP: Men may have a harder time abandoning a project, course of action, or strategy because their brains tend to focus on big rewards later, unlike female brains that are often satisfied with small gains now.

Researchers caution that neither approach is better; both are necessary and useful in daily life. What is key is understanding how these differences can be turned into advantages through collaborative efforts involving both sexes.

It too simplistic to assume that all men and women react the same way to risk, stress, information gathering, and goal setting. And it’s dangerous to stereotype behavior by gender. Of primary significance is that these studies elucidate how different brains each bring unique strengths to the table. Working together will create a stronger collaborative product in the end.

What differences in risk taking have you noticed between men and women?   

© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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How Leaders Can Use Emotional Intelligence To Predict Their Success

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Few could accuse the FBI of being soft and fluffy, and yet emotional intelligence is at the heart of most successful FBI investigations. 

Discomfort zone - duckling

The ability to recognize, control, and express emotions was often the single factor that led to my success in recruiting foreign intelligence officers to work for the U.S. government. It’s also played an essential role in recruiting human intelligence (humint) sources from among the business community.

By remaining alert for how people reacted to different topics of conversation, I gained an insight into how their emotions and thoughts drove their behavior.

While the FBI is constantly training agents how to do their job better, I learned about the importance of emotional intelligence by observing squad mates who failed to demonstrate it.

They were the ones who failed to develop humint sources or get close to the subject of their investigation—they could not break through barriers and develop rapport with people. Not only that, they often had a particular lack of self-awareness—a wreck waiting to happen to anyone, not just those working counterintelligence cases. 

The way in which we react to obstacles, misfortune, and adversity is often the result of habit rather than deliberate choice. With a little training and awareness, we can develop the mental toughness needed to make smarter choices and be more successful.

Here are 5 ways leaders can use emotional intelligence to predict their success:

1. Engage In Psychological Fortune Telling

Our preoccupation with being happy all the time can actually lead us to expect too much from everyday experiences.

Psychologist Maya Tamir recommends that instead of making the pursuit of happiness your guiding principle in stressful situations, you should think about your long-term goal first. Once you’ve clearly identified your long term goal, you can choose the emotion you want to experience in that situation. 

For example, leaders who are under pressure to make a compromise can use emotional intelligence to opt for the emotion or feeling that will help them be more successful.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence do not always choose the pleasant emotion; instead, they opt for the one that keeps them moving down the road and toward their long-term goals.

2. Early Intervention Is Key

Sometimes we’re thrown into situations where there is no exit strategy. But often, many of us could avoid emotional events by simply anticipating them and taking pro-active measures. 

There is always someone with an irksome laugh or annoying habit to deal with, so develop buffers if you know you’re going to be in their company.

Situations that trigger negative emotions often leave people feeling depressed, especially when they could have been averted. 

Many events that produce stress and negative emotions are uncontrollable, such as accidents or illnesses. Many of them, however, can be managed if leaders are savvy about how to anticipate them and intervene.

Identify and address your source of stress proactively rather than try to deal with the emotional fallout later. 

3. Avoidance Is Not An Option

Given a choice, most of us would choose to avoid recurring situations that evoke unpleasant or sad feelings. Dealing with people or situations that continually bleed annoying emotions can be exhausting, so we seek distractions or look away with relief.

Studies have shown that those who know the situation is likely to rear it’s ugly head again in the future but have the grit to stick with it, and pierce through the negativity, are far more likely to respond in ways that are constructive. 

The reason is this: when the situation is recurring, you bolster your brain’s ability to observe and detach from inner reactions so you can strengthen emotional management. 

4. Reframe Your Emotion

Often, the key to managing emotions is simply to reframe them. Anger and fear are both freighted with energy; so, instead of expressing them in a negative way, channel them into a more positive one.

For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, reframe that nervous energy as “getting pumped” for the next performance.

Managing your emotions is a skill; you learn it better when you practice it over time. The same goes for reframing them—it takes intentional training. Often, we let the energy from our emotions decide how we react. We do not intentionally cultivate the emotions that will serve us best.

Neuroplasticity has shown us that we can literally re-wire our brain by changing the way we think about negative situations. If we can take responsibility for own brain, then we can also take responsibility for our own emotions.

5. Let It All Hang Out

But what if someone insults you? You cannot avoid feeling hurt no matter how hard you try to control your response. 

There are times when we need to express our emotions because holding them back takes a toll.

Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister conducted a series of experiments where people who suppressed their emotions (both happy and sad) tended to give up sooner on later projects. Resisting emotional  responses had taxed their willpower and energy.

Other research has found that people who suppress their emotions all the time have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and suffer from more broken relationships, chronic pain, tinnitus, and diabetes than the rest of the population.

Leaders who use emotional intelligence to anticipate their reactions, visualize the outcomes, and identify the actions that could change future feelings are in a better position to predict their success.

How has emotional intelligence helped you to be more successful?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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5 Science-Based Tips For Building Your Resilience

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

My brother almost died from a heart attack a few years back. Because of his resilience, he is now in great health. Nothing gets your attention quite like a life or death situation. 

PODCAST: 

Struggles - tiger in waterWhether a person hangs in or gives up during tough times depends on their mental toughness and ability to bounce back. Resilience is harnessing your response to stress when you’re faced with adversity. Since setbacks are part of any endeavor, success hinges on resilience.

Here are 5 science-based ways you can increase your level of resilience when faced with stress and trauma:

1. REINTERPRET YOUR SITUATION

Columbia University Psychologist Kevin Ochsner has found that when people intentionally reinterpret a negative situation as being less negative, they experience fewer unpleasant emotions. This technique has worked successfully for former Vietnam prisoners of war. Most of the veterans had been brutally tortured during their imprisonment. Instead of feeling despair or engaging in self-pity, they reinterpreted their situation and found meaningful ways in which they could grow stronger, wiser, and more resilient as a result.

They were also able to see possibilities in the future, relate better to others, and appreciate life.

The key is to teach ourselves how to observe our own behaviors and thoughts, challenge our negative assessments of stressful situations, and replace them with more positive points of view. 

Do this by asking questions such as, “Is there a less negative way to look at this situation?” “Am I exaggerating my circumstances?” “Is there something I can learn from this experience?” “How can I grow stronger as a result of what I’m going through?”

Mental toughness is choosing how you respond to your situation.

2. ENGAGE IN MINDFUL MEDITATION

If we can consciously live in the present moment, we can stop fretting about either the future or the past. This is important because it trains us to become an observer of our own life who learns how to watch, and not judge, what is going on.

The mind tends to follow familiar conditioned patterns of thinking that, because of our negativity bias, tends to focus on the stress in our life and our failure to cope. Mindful meditation helps cultivate our ability to focus on the positive and develop more flexible thinking so we are better able to deal with anxiety, pressure, and trauma. 

Both reinterpretation and mindful meditation activate the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is associated with greater emotional control, a boost in positive emotions, and faster recovery from feelings such as fear and anger.  

3. REGULATE YOUR STRESS RESPONSE

Boosting your ability to bounce back from difficult situations also promotes mental and physical health. These benefits provide you with a far greater ability to regulate your stress response. 

We have a natural negativity bias that has kept us alert for dangers since the caveman days. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found that negative emotions tend to narrow our focus of attention and restrict our behavior to that more suited to the emotions associated with survival, not dealing with day to day stress.

Conversely, positive emotions have been found to broaden our focus and produce more creative and flexible responses to stress and trauma.

It’s important to note, however, that mental toughness and resilience are associated with realistic positive thinking—not fantasies or wishful thinking. The key is being able to filter out the drama that often derails our decision making process. 

4.WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING

Aerobic exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. It improves attention, planning, decision making, and memory.

Workouts need to be challenging to be of the most benefit to both your body and your brain. Stress inoculation is the theory behind peak performance. It is based on the idea that if a person deliberately takes on increasingly difficult challenges, they will gradually learn to handle higher levels of stress and produce at higher performance levels. 

The graded exposure to stress can apply to physical, emotional, and cognitive resilience. This means your experiences will need to be outside your comfort zone, but not so intense that they are unmanageable.

This is a quote from the U.S. Navy Combat Stress Control Handbook: “To achieve greater tolerance to a physical stressor, a progressively greater exposure is required. The exposure should be sufficient to produce more than routine stress reflexes…In other words, you must stress the system.”

5. GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS

Many studies have confirmed that the strength and depth of our relationships is a primary component in developing mental toughness. Relationships with others weaken the impact of stress and bolster our courage. 

Support from friends and family is important because it increases our self-confidence and provides a safety net if we should fall. As a result, we tend to be more aggressive in meeting challenges and embracing risk. Social ties stimulate oxytocin, the hormone that is known to reduce anxiety and fear.

A resilient leader is not someone who avoids stress but someone who learns how to master it. Science is showing us how we can boost our resilience. Setbacks are part of any endeavor, and those who react positively will be the ones to keep moving forward.

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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