Stress and burnout are increasingly becoming a bigger problem than ever before. According to an American Psychological Association Work and Well-being Survey, 79% of employees experienced unmanaged stress. Longer work hours, increased demands at home, the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic uncertainty have contributed to increased mental health challenges. Stress in the workplace is a top concern.
Efforts to combat stress aren't meeting the demand. So why with the focus on promoting "self-care" are we not seeing significant reductions in stress and anxiety? Most recommendations come with good intentions, but they can miss the mark if they aren't based on physiologic mechanisms that balance the stress response.
Review of the Stress Response
Stress is a threat to your balance. Any real or perceived threat triggers an automatic physiologic reaction that releases adrenaline and cortisol which will prepare your body to fight or flee a dangerous situation. This response is activated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
(Read "The Stress Response: Everything You Need To Know" for more details on the physiology of the stress response and why it is important to understand.)
What is Stress Resilience
Once the threat is gone, the body returns to balance by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). This is often referred to as the "rest and digest" state. Rapid recovery is ideal because this being healthy is being in balance.
Stress resilience is the capacity to recover quickly.
Resilience implies recovering from something. When it comes to stress, recovery is from the mental and physiologic response to a threat, or stressor.
The return to balance is largely due to the PSNS. If resilience is the capacity to recover quickly, then stress resilience is essentially the capacity for healthy parasympathetic activation to bring the body back to balance after a stress response has been activated by a threat.
How to Build Stress Resilience
Information and advice about how to get stress relief are easily found. Much of that information sounds good and may not harm you, but much of it can even cause more stress such as "Get better sleep" or "Just chill out". As if it were that easy! That type of messaging can present as a perceived threat as most who are experiencing stress don't have time to do additional "things".
Using evidence-based strategies is your best chance to find stress relief and bring your life back into balance. Understanding what your body does during the stress response and why helps you to understand what, why, and how to do things that help you recover quickly.
Best Practice #1: Get adequate support
This includes being properly resourced. If you build houses, but your boss won't give you a hammer, you'll find it difficult to accomplish your task. If you need to give a video presentation, you're going to need a camera.
Adequate resources can include:
Education and training
Tools and processes
Access to assistance when needed
Think of all the things that will make your task easier.
Best Practice #2: Employ evidence-based balance strategies
This is the action part.
1. Change perception with reframing
More than half of what activates the fight-or-flight response is perceived threats. The days of having to run from a bear are much less than they used to be.
"Stress arises less from actual events and more from our assessment (appraisal) of those events." - Dr. Richard Lazarus
Changing your perception can reduce the tendency to see neutral situations as threatening (overreacting). One of the best ways to change your perception is to use the technique of reframing.
Rapid reframing tool you can use.
2. Create control using routines or rituals
The brain is designed to be efficient, and it does so by creating and recognizing patterns. Change is a threat and triggers the stress response. Disruption in patterns (like a change in an organization or a change in schedule) poses a threat to your balance. You can use this propensity to be efficient to your advantage by creating routines to optimize efficiency and reduce threats.
Pre-performance routines have been shown to decrease the level of stress and increase the level of performance. Using routines creates control by providing the brain with a sense of structures, regularity, and predictability.
Get help creating personal routines by downloading the worksheet "Implementing Personal Routines" here:
3. Use parasympathetic activating techniques
Remember, the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is in control of the recovery phase in the stress response. You can literally hack your body's recovery system by doing things that will physiologically activate the PSNS.
Some examples of parasympathetic activators include:
Resonant frequency (RF) breathing
Alternate nose breathing
Demands vs resources balance visualization
Heart-mind coherence technique
Rhythmic muscle contraction/release
Looking at nature/being in nature
Smelling certain scents
Cold water immersion
Walking a dog
Many of these do not require much time. Even sixty seconds of breathing can be enough to activate the PSNS.
Resonant Frequency (RF) Breathing tool example you can use.
For guided tools such as this, visit the Meducos Youtube channel.
Best Practice #3: Review, revise, repeat
To make it as easy as possible to recover quickly, practice these techniques frequently. Making them routine does a few things. First, it becomes automatic. Automating these techniques by making them routine makes it easier for your brain to kick in the recovery process when you are facing a threat.
Secondly, the more you do these things, the more you'll be in balance when a threat is encountered. If a threat is presented and you are already out of balance, you will likely suffer more from the effects of the additional stress than if you were starting from a recovered position.
Practicing also helps you to see which techniques work best for you. The moment of "danger" is not the time to be figuring out what to do.
Now that you have some knowledge about how to build better stress resilience, turn that knowledge into power and do something. Ask yourself:
"What can I do? What is one thing that I can control that will make a difference in my life?"
If you are familiar with the Meducos Method, you’ll know that by taking just one small intentional step and through daily practice you can make enormous changes in your life.
Start small to end big.
To make it easier for you to track your progress and to keep yourself accountable, you can download a Personal Intention Record from the Meducos Healthy Tactics and Tools page. Or you can download it directly from here:
Now that you have some knowledge, turn that knowledge into power to change your life and the lives of those around you. Sharing what you learn with others is an integral part of the learning process so now that you are on your way to making lifestyle the best medicine in your life, go share what you’re learning with someone else, and together we can #SpreadHealth.
For information on how to build stress resilience, see the Building Stress Resilience page on this site.