I’m starting this series of articles about stress and resilience with two thoughts in mind:
- The problem is not stress; the problem is resilience capacity.
- Until we learn to calm our emotions, we have no control over our future.
I will publish one text each week to help you understand yourselves better and increase your resilience. I want you to develop a clear and personal perception of stress in your life and, starting from there, to build your own strategy and tactics for better resilience.
An Attempt at Definition – Stress: There is good stress and bad stress. Bad stress is anything that causes me displeasure or discomfort. The feeling of physical or emotional displeasure or discomfort is, first and foremost, an unconscious, spontaneous, automatic reaction. The more intense and prolonged the discomfort, the deeper and more intense the level of stress I experience.
What constitutes displeasure or discomfort depends on the individual. It doesn’t make sense to judge myself or others because I stress too much or too little about things that are too small or too big. How I perceive and interpret stress depends on several personal variables:
- What I inherited from my parents (biologically, emotionally, and behaviorally),
- My character structure (a natural given),
- Life experiences (especially between 0-7 years),
- How I learned (spontaneously or deliberately) to adapt to adversity,
- The life stage I am in,
- The particular context (here and now, I can or cannot X).
The Mechanism of Stress + a Bit of Neurology: In a broad sense, stress is a form of tension, rigidity, and defense, both physically and emotionally and cognitively.
- Physically, stress is a reaction at the level of the nervous system, spending more time with the hyperactive sympathetic system. The sympathetic system is responsible for the fight-or-flight response and is a branch of the autonomic nervous system, which controls the functioning of internal organs. It’s important to understand this because it leads to the following:
- The stress reaction is organic, spontaneous, unconscious, and sometimes goes unnoticed.
- Stress directly and immediately affects our body; undoubtedly, stress makes us sick (dermatitis, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, hair loss, tooth loss, autoimmune diseases, fertility issues, thyroiditis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.).
- To calm the body’s stress reaction, we need to work with the body; it’s not enough to work with the mind. This includes breathing exercises, sports, massage, osteopathy.
- Emotionally, stress appears as a state of agitation, sometimes with fear, other times with anger, or both, an irritable, impatient mood.
- Cognitively, it manifests as negative, repetitive thoughts, harmful beliefs or convictions, a black-and-white logic, all or nothing.
Returning to the Definition – Resilience: When discomfort or displeasure arises, the mind and body try to restore balance, a state of well-being. Some forms of adaptation are better than others, so we talk about healthy or unhealthy adaptation. Anything that reduces tension, uncertainty, worry, helplessness, overwhelm, etc., and brings me into a state of physical and emotional calmness, competence, and power in my own life is a form of healthy adaptation. Anything that avoids or denies the feeling of discomfort momentarily but has unwanted side effects and is not sustainable in the long term is an unhealthy adaptation. For example, feeling tired and tense and relaxing with alcohol, food, and/or substances.
Resilience is the ability of the mind and body to rebalance efficiently, to adapt healthily to the situation of discomfort or displeasure.
Sometimes we face situations where our techniques and abilities to rebalance are exceeded. Stress exists in our lives; we will never get rid of it. There will always be something that challenges our adaptability limits, taking us to a stage where what we knew how to do is no longer enough. Resilience in such situations means observing yourself, evaluating the situation, and finding (alone or with someone) those techniques that bring you back to calm, allowing you to become competent.
Introspection Exercise: This week, reflect on what causes discomfort or displeasure in your life. No matter how small or large, note everything. Traffic, the way your partner leaves their coffee cup/socks, the relationship with a family member, various thoughts (rates, environmental crises, when you will have time to do x or y task, etc.). Note everything that you notice creates discomfort in a note-taking app on your phone or in a journal and give it a rating from 1 to 10, where 10 is the highest imaginable stress level.
Note down what adaptation techniques to discomfort and displeasure you have. For example, ignoring the problem, forcing yourself to think positively, smoking a cigarette, eating something good, playing on your phone or computer, etc. Evaluate from 1 to 10 how effective the technique you use is.