Reduce Stress & Build Resilience: 5 Science-Backed Strategies
Let’s face it.
The modern world is fraught with stress.
Workforce automation, the rising number of chronic diseases, increased societal demands, ever-emerging technologies, the escalation of violent crime …
Not to mention the personal, internal stress we all face as human beings. It can all be overwhelming.
But the truth is that stress is an inevitable part of our existence.
And since it’s here to stay, we have to learn how to deal with stress if we want to survive.
The answer is resilience.
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Your Mindset (and what it has to do with reducing stress)
Mindset is extremely important when it comes to almost anything in life.
When it comes to reducing stress, it’s perhaps even more important than the actual stress!
A recent study based on data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) reveals that:
The interesting thing about this study is that high stress is not the determining factor – rather, the perception of that stress is.
How we view stress matters.
There are two separate components to any stressful situation:
Just like how there are:
So, how do you view adversity?
Do you see it as an unfortunate setback or an opportunity to learn?
The answer to this question plays a huge role in how well you are able to adapt and bounce back.
Increase Your Resilience, Reduce Your Stress
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
– Hellen Keller
While resilience is somewhat inherent, it is a muscle that can be trained and strengthened.
It’s not easy because resilience cannot be developed when everything is going smoothly.
Rather, resilience is forged in the fires of adversity.
Resilience is forged in the fires of adversity.
But, it is possible if you can brave discomfort, develop grit, and enhance your sense of self-efficacy.
Here are 5 things you can do to reduce stress and become more resilient.
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Be Mindful (Mindfulness-based stress reduction)
“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker... the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain.”
– Eckhart Tolle
Everyday mindfulness is one of the most powerful practices you can implement to reduce stress and build resilience.
If you are mindful throughout your day, you will develop a sort of detachment and tolerance for stress.
This is because mindfulness stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us “rest and digest”).
Instead of relying on the amygdala (which activates the fight or flight response), the brain begins to rely more upon the neocortex. The neocortex is responsible for higher-order brain functions such as self-reflection.
As it creates and strengthens neural pathways, your brain shifts away from stress-induced emotional reactivity towards calmer, more thought-out responses.
Another way to reduce stress and increase resilience is by meditating. When you take a mental break, your brain is still very much active. This is one of the best self care ideas for stress relief.
Giving it the opportunity to really process experiences and information without getting overwhelmed helps to reduce your stress levels.
Reduce Stress & Build Resilience
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” - Buddha
Your thoughts are not facts.
What you think and/or the way you feel about a particular situation – your perception – creates your reality.
You have the power to challenge your thoughts. To interrupt your negative thought patterns and prove your all-or-nothing assumptions wrong.
As humans, we tend to magnify our bad experiences and we remember them more than the good (the negativity bias).
So, train your brain to focus on the positive.
Linger on positive experiences that are emotional and uplifting. Try to find the humor in challenging or uncomfortable situations.
Pretend you are an attorney and cross-examine yourself. Try to debunk your unsupported or irrational conclusions.
Cognitive distortions such as filtering, personalization, and overgeneralization are also common, especially among those who have anxiety.
I find two things really helpful when it comes to this:
1- Ask yourself, “Is it temporary or permanent?” and “Is it life or death?”
2- Express gratitude- Acknowledging the things you are grateful for helps to keep things in perspective. For example, how would your life change without some of the things you have now – things that you perhaps take for granted? What’s something you once wanted and now have? (*beware the hedonic treadmill)
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to push our lives in a certain direction, we wind up in a completely different place.
There are times when it seems like no matter how hard you try you just keep getting knocked down.
These blows can be difficult to take, especially if you’ve already been through a lot and you’re burnt out.
But, much of the suffering we experience is due to (once again) our perception.
Stress is subjective.
How stressed are you? Take the quiz.
According to a health psychology professor at Stanford, believing that stress is harmful is what makes it harmful, not the stress itself.
In her TED Talk, she explains how to make stress your friend. Here it is if you’d like to give it a listen:
Something that works for me is viewing challenges as opportunities to learn.
Even in the most terrible of circumstances, you can find a silver lining. Focus on that.
Think of it as an opportunity to become more resilient.
Instead of fighting change or lamenting your situation, think:
What is this challenge trying to teach me? What can I learn from it? How will it make me a stronger/wiser/better person?
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
It is scientifically proven that people with higher levels of compassion are happier and healthier.
Compassion produces oxytocin which reduces amydgala activity.
Practicing acts of kindness increases immunity and the production of serotonin.
Compassion for others – as well as ourselves – is essential to our well-being.
There are so many benefits to lovingkindness meditation, including that it:
Meditation is also one of the best ways to reduce stress and increase resilience. It helps us to increase our self-compassion (and our compassion for others), manage our emotions and heal trauma in the physical body.
If you can, try a grounding meditation in nature.
Researchers describe the effects of grounding as “intriguing”. Not only does connecting to the earth’s energy lowers stress levels, it also reduces inflammation, speeds up wound healing, and helps prevent and treat chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
When meditating indoors, I like to hold a healing crystal in my hand– preferably one associated with the Root Chakra, such as carnelian.
Use the Mind-Body Connection to Your Advantage
Traumatic events typically involving loss, humiliation, and/or danger (life event dimensions) are related to the development of major depression and anxiety.
Neuroscience research shows that unprocessed stress is stored in the body, preventing us from moving forward.
Such trauma also damages telomeres (the protective layer at end of chromosomes), leaving us more vulnerable to disease, contributing to cellular aging, and changing our DNA.
While these types of struggles may also require the help of a professional, there are ways in which we can help to heal our traumas (and our telomeres).
And I bet you can guess what they are: diet, exercise and stress management.
So, use the mind-body connection to your advantage!
What we eat, our level of physical activity, how we breathe – these things all impact our mental health and ability to manage stress.
-Diet: Fuel your body and reduce stress with anti-anxiety foods. What we eat (or don’t eat) affects not only our health but also our mood, energy levels, and ability to manage stress.
-Exercise: Boost your mood with exercise – let your body burn up those stress hormones and release endorphins. I highly recommend yoga, an exercise during which you can practice mindfulness and deep breathing.
-Breathing: One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is by breathing deeply and slowly through your nose, allowing your stomach to extend as your lungs fill with air. Hold it for a second or two and then exhale through your mouth. Exhale for longer than you inhaled. Do this for 10 breaths and your body (and mind) will be more relaxed.
*Have you created your own self-care kit for anxiety? Here's how to do it and what to include.*
Over to you - what has helped you to build resilience? Let me know in the comments!
Share this & help someone else!