Stress is something we can’t seem to avoid. We have relationship, financial, work and health stressors everywhere, and that’s before factoring in the current pandemic which has, to date, killed 554,000 people in the U.S. alone. That’s a ton of stress.
Why do some people seem to manage stress better than others? Is it because they actually experience it less? Is there a stress-less gene? Steven M. Southwick, MD, author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, writes in an article for the Huffington Post, “While no one gene or gene variation explains resilience, genetic factors do play an important role in determining how an individual responds to stress and trauma.” A study of twins, where one experienced trauma and the other did not, show that genes account for 32 to 38 percent of a person’s stress response. What about the other 62 to 68 percent?
Research is uncovering things to factor into a person’s stress response, things like genetics, development, cognition, environment and neurobiology. Dr. Southwick proposes that developing “behavior, social and pharmacological interventions and training programs to enhance resilience to stress” is the way to go. I agree with developing behavior, cognitive and social interventions, and training programs. Most people who know me know that I am mostly opposed to psychopharmacological interventions, based on the work from Dr. William Glasser, Dr. Peter Breggin, Dr. Peter Gøtzsche, Dr. Terry Lynch and investigative reporter Robert Whitaker. I am not a doctor and do not give medical advice. If you are interested in an alternative narrative to the medical model and solution to emotional distress, you may want to take a look at their work. All have published works on Amazon.
When considering the remaining 62 to 68 percent of what contributes to resilience, we need to examine the following factors:
- A person’s support network – The strength and effectiveness of a person’s support network contributes to their ability to handle stress. Just having someone who listens to you, empathizes and helps you know you don’t have to bear the burden alone really helps.
- Culture and Environment – What a person absorbs from their culture and environment shapes the choices people make. How a person observes others handling stress impacts the options they keep for themselves in similar circumstances.
- Patterns of thinking – A person with an internal locus of control has a higher level of resilience than those who believe everything happens externally, positioning themselves as victims of circumstances beyond their control. A person with an internal locus of control understands they may not control the crisis, but they do have control over how they respond to it. Their response will either help or hurt them, and they tend to choose responses that are more helpful and provide more control.
- Behavioral choices – Humans are creatures of habit. Many of us have a go-to behavior when experiencing stress. Some people choose to emote all over everything and everybody, some people become more introspective under stress, and others stuff their emotions inside and pretend everything’s all right. The person who can be introspective and express their emotions calmly during times of stress will fare better than those who recklessly emote all over the place and those who stick their heads in the proverbial sand, pretending everything is fine.
- Coping skills – People also have their go-to behaviors for coping with stress. Some people choose healthy coping skills such as exercising, journaling, meditating, mindfulness, talking with a friend or praying. Others tend to utilize self-destructive coping skills such as over or under eating, over or under sleeping, retail therapy, indiscriminate sex, or drugs or alcohol. At the risk of stating the obvious, it is better when you develop healthy coping skills to replace any self-destructive behaviors you may have in your repertoire.
- Access to information about developing new coping skills – People can’t know what they don’t know. To develop healthy habits that lead to resilience, they need to know how to do that or at least know who to ask that could help them learn how.
As a person practicing Choice Theory and the creator of Mental Freedom, I believe we create much of our own stress. Of course, there are things that just happen that we didn’t want or ask for, but much of the stress people experience is self-created: through guilt and regret over the past, catastrophizing about the future, falling into a victim role or trying to control things that cannot be changed in the present. There are answers to all of these. If you would be interested in learning more about the Mental Freedom process, click here to set up a complimentary Mental Freedom Strategy Session.