If you have a pulse, you are going to experience stress. Some low-level, day-to-day stress is normal, and we manage to get through it. It might peak from things like an interview, deadline, or something unexpected, and we get through it. Even a major life stressor, such as a serious accident, divorce, or the loss of a loved, can cause acute but still relatively short-lived stress that eventually recedes, at least most of the time.
There are also some people who seem to be able to cope with stress better than others. They can navigate challenging situations without seeming to be troubled or are in high-stress, life circumstances but seem to manage well. How do they do it? This is not just about being born with good genes. People can develop and cultivate a more stress-resilient life. (Learn how people are overcoming alcoholism at FHE Health with healthy tools for coping with stress.)
Resiliency is simply the ability to bounce back after an event, like a rubber band goes back to its original shape after being stretched. If you are not born with a naturally stress-resistant nature, here are some things you can do to help your body and mind cope with and yes, let go, of stress. When intentionally practiced, these lifestyle choices can build stress resilience.
Take Care of Your Body Basics
The body and mind are complex machines that need the right inputs to work at their best. As illustration, consider the old computer adage: garbage in, garbage out. A body that is already working at sub-optimal performance is going to be more susceptible to stress and will take longer to recover. To build stress hardiness, we first need to take care of the basics. Sleep, good nutrition, and healthy exercise are basic building blocks that help us function at our best.
- Sleep. The body and brain heal better when they get enough sleep. A regular sleep routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and ensuring a good restful sleep is important.
- Nutrition. Eating well is vital to optimal functioning. A balanced diet, getting all the vitamins and minerals we need, and taking care of our gut are critical to physical and mental health.
- Exercise. Exercise, especially with cardiovascular benefits that get the heart pumping, reduces stress; it also allows us to be physically fit and ready for challenges. You don’t have to be a gym fanatic, but people who are stress-resilient find regular ways to be physically active. A good walk, getting outdoors for a hike, or bike riding can do wonders for relaxing the body and lowering stress levels.
Take Care of your Mental Health
There are some practices that allow people to not dwell on stress or add to it with habits that are counterproductive. Being aware and practicing the following healthy mind habits can help people recover from stressful events and be more at peace, centered, and at their best to tackle something new.
- Forgiveness. The art of letting things go can be hard to master, but when you’re able to do this with negative experiences and evaluations, you free yourself of the extra baggage that makes people less resilient. If someone is ruminating and holding on to these negative things from the past, that bandwidth is taken up—when it could be available to deal with the challenges of today.
Forgiveness is for our benefit, too, not just for others. Taking a different view of a wrong, by not forgetting it but leaving it in the past, can be so freeing. People are imperfect. They make mistakes, and we are the sum of the good and the bad that has happened. We may not get to choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how to deal with it. Learning a way to let go, see the strength we had to deal with something, and detach from useless anger or fear related to a situation we’ve already passed through can make a real difference.
- Self-Compassion. Like forgiveness, being more compassionate can decrease the unhelpful baggage you carry into a new stressful situation. Learning to be kind to yourself, accepting (but perhaps working on) things you’ve done or regrets, acknowledging your worth and dignity, and exercising self-love even in the face of the bad can really be a wonderful gift. We make mistakes. If you focus on them, they grow larger. If we learn from them, then we have gained a new skill. If we choose to see ourselves as still good enough and move forward, tomorrow is brighter.
- Gratitude, Meditation, and Prayer. Seeing the bigger picture and acknowledging what’s good can be an anchor during stressful periods. Taking time to “balance the scales” and appreciate what we have can make problems and challenges seem less ominous. They may be real, but not everything is 100% hopeless or bad.
Even a few moments of considering what’s good or helpful in our lives can help to change our focus and open up possibilities that were hidden. Prayer, meditation and connecting with nature can be ways to step outside the stress, find some peace and solace, and get us into a different mindset than fear, negativity, or angst.
Arriving at a place of inner calm and centeredness within the storms of life takes some effort. However, if you cultivate this inside yourself regularly, you will be more able to handle stress and difficult life events, because you are at your best, grounded, and able to see clearly and tackle a challenge as an event, not the end of the world.
Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW, is Chief Clinical Officer at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health.