Multiple research studies support this fundamental idea about how to cope with stress: stress that is moderate and intermittent is the path to greater resilience. Too little or too much adversity is not good; we become strongest somewhere in the middle.
Resilience, once believed available only to a handful of lucky people, can arise from everyday stress and renewal. Habits of regular stress and renewal, tailored to your gifts and challenges, will strengthen you. That means regularly getting out of your comfort zone, physically, socially, and spiritually. But only you can know the boundaries of your comfort zone; only you can know all of the stressors you are experiencing; only you can know how much renewal you need and are getting.
3 ways to turn your stress into strength
Remember that your stress reactions, far from being the liability implied by ideas such as “toxic stress,” are gifts that allow you to rise to challenges, seize opportunities, and cope with stress. Your gifts only become problems when you overuse them.
- Think of your physical stress response (fight or flight) as changes to your body that help you rise to material challenges, opportunities, and threats—acquiring, enhancing, defending, owning, and using things, including your body, finances, tools, and other possessions. Physical stress becomes strength when you activate renewal by resting and digesting.
- Your social stress response (defend or distance) changes the way you think and feel. It helps you rise to the mental and emotional challenges, opportunities, and threats of dealing with people: enemies, competitors, teachers, coaches, mentors, family, communities, tribes—living, working, competing, cooperating, and playing with others. Social stress becomes strength when you activate renewal by tending and befriending.
- Your spiritual stress response (selfish and survivalist) changes your values and perspective, leading you to focus more on immediate rather than long-term or big-picture concerns. It helps when you encounter challenges, opportunities, or threats to your priorities, urging you to focus more on yourself and those you care most about. Spiritual stress becomes strength when you activate renewal by pausing and planning.