Stress is something that we all experience to one degree or another on a fairly regular basis. It comes in many forms and from many sources. Change, lack of change, the environment around us, even our own thoughts can all be source of stress. Now, this is not to say that stress is always a bad thing. Psychology teaches us that there is an optimal level of stress, enough to motivate us to better our situation, but not too much where we feel helpless. Stress can come from the realization that we are not where we want to be in life, but can provide the motivation for us to get there.

However, from a wellness perspective the amount of stress (both in number of source and strength) is not always that important. What may be even more important is a concept that positive psychology calls Resilience or how well you bounce back from stress. Someone who is resilient may actually experience more stress than the average person but recovers from it before it has any lasting psychological and physiological effects. The latter of which may be of particular importance in our current situation. Chronic stress puts a burden on the immune system that makes you more vulnerable to getting sick and slower to heal.    

So how does one become resilient? Thankfully, this is a mindset that can be developed with enough motivation and effort. Now some of the resilience building methods may be impractical in our current lock down (such as joining groups and doing activities with others) but we can look at a few strategies. One of the basic tenants of resilience is what is known as shift-and-persist.  Shifting is a mental process in which you change how you view a source of stress. This can range from trying to find the positive in what is happening to changing your own emotional reaction to it. For example, being locked in with nothing to do may be a good opportunity to focus on things you have been putting off, or seeing it as a time to rest and rejuvenate without many of the normal sources of stress. Persisting is a motivational process in which you focus on what comes after the stress. This can involve finding meaning in the event, maintaining an optimistic outlook for what is to come, and finding strength in which to confront the source of the stress.

Though shift-and-persist is important, it is not the only strategy of building resilience. Relationships can provide a source of resilience and as social support for when you need help. Even when we are not supposed to be physically interacting with people, technology provides us with ways to maintain and strengthen relationships that we may have been otherwise neglecting. Chat, call, video conference If you are able, connecting with others and strengthening bonds is a great way to increase both resilience and general wellness (Being stuck at home can mean more time to focus on family). Resilience can also come from maintaining the self. Stress is a psychophysiological concept, as in it affects both the mind and body. The good thing is that many of the methods used to take care of the self also affect our stress levels. Get more sleep, eat healthier, get more exercise, are all things that both have short- and long-term effects on stress.

Probably the most difficult of the resilience methods is acceptance. The realization that sometimes you just have to accept that things are different and learn to live with it. Acceptance has been shown to lower stress levels in patients with chronic illnesses and in older adults who have retired. Now this is not an easy task, western culture tends to promote confrontation of problems head on. This approach can be useful in solving the source of stress but it can also mean wasting valuable time and energy trying to do something that may not be possible. Sometimes, the best strategy is to understand that life changes and maintain hope that we can adapt to it. 

So, remember, for good or for ill, stress is a part of life. It is something that is unavoidable and sometimes unpredictable. It is not the presence or strength of the stress that affects us but how we choose to confront it.


-Joseph R. Castro, PhD

Leave a Comment