A huge welcome to Mark Walsh, author of this week’s guest post.   Mark leads Integration Training – specialist stress management training, business leadership training and resilience training providers, based in Brighton (Sussex), Birmingham and London UK. His clients include multi-national blue chip companies, UNICEF and The Institute of Development Studies. Prior to this he worked for a charity in conflict-zones worldwide. In his spare time Mark meditates, dances, practices aikido and enjoys being exploited by two cats.

Mark offers grounded, practical advice to help you to bounce back from stressful situations:

Bouncing Back – Resilience and Stress Management Training

Life is stressful in some way or another for everyone. People vary however in how effective their personal stress management is and how quickly they bounce back from adversity. This article offers a few tips on resilience training for anyone who’s life isn’t always easy. A large proportion of healthy adaptation to stress has been shown to be how people think, manage their physical health and use social support. In other words there is hope as resilience and effective stress management are life-skills that can be learnt.

Mental Stress Management Training

It is not external events but our thinking that create stress. Consider two people stuck in a traffic jam. One may get annoyed thinking about how unfair it and dwelling on the appointment they will miss while another may take it in their stride, saying to themselves “heh, that’s life, at least I can listen to the radio for a change” It’s the thought process that creates stress. The following are some good resilient thinking strategies:

  • Acceptance of what can’t be changed
  • An internal “locus of control”- i.e. not being a victim
  • Creative problem solving
  • Flexibility
  • Realistic optimism
  • Maintaining positive and stable self-esteem
  • Managing (but not repressing) emotions
  • Managing stress and conflict skilfully
  • Humour
  • Mindfulness and Spirituality

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) deals in depth with some of these factors and discusses “thought distortions” such as over-generalising, personalising and (my personal favourite) “catastrophising”.

Resilience Training and The Body

Maintaining good physical health is a key foundation of resilience. The fundamentals of good diet, plenty of exercise, rest, good quality sleep and minimal alcohol and other drug intake cannot be ignored. Beyond the basics of health, physical grounding and centring exercises to manage stress arousal can also build resilience. The following is the ABC “centring” technique to manage stress:

  • Aware – Be mindful of the present moment using the five senses, especially feeling the body, ground (yourself on your chair and feet) and your breath
  • Balance – In posture and attention.  Have an expansive feeling
  • Centre-Line Relaxed – Relax your mouth and stomach – breathe deeply into your belly
  • (Also: Connected to the reason why you are doing this and Connected to other people)

Other forms of stress-busting body awareness practices such as yoga and tai chi are also recommended for resilience.

Social Support, Stress and Resilience

Social support and empathy are critical factors in psychological resilience so if you want to bounce not break build a support network around you and invest in relationships.  Equally if you want to help those around you really listen to them, empathy is a great gift that builds resilience.

Resilience and Environmental Factors

Environmental factors have been shown to significantly effect stress. Background noise is a good example for office workers and contact with the natural world is also a stress-buffer. Even ensuring you receive a little natural light and get a few house plants can make a big difference. Many people also find organising and cleaning their environment to have an impact on stress and wellbeing.