Five Practices for Stress Resilience

Five Practices for More Stress Resilience

By Gail Wagnild

Reading time:  3 minutes

I looked up “stress resilience” and there were more than 76 million results. There is a lot of interest in this topic but what is it?

I was working with a leader in an organization who wanted to inoculate his burned out employees to stress by increasing their resilience. He thought that by building up their resilience, they would no longer experience stress. I’ve also been asked if my resilience assessments would identify job applicants who weren’t resilient and by doing this help leaders select only those individuals who would be productive. It doesn’t work like this.

Stress resilience is not resistance, avoidance, or inoculation to stress. Whether we have a great deal of resilience or not, we still will experience stress. We will continue to get the flu, have accidents, experience loss, and fail. Events that challenge us will continue to occur. No matter how robust our resilience is, we will never be numb to stress or able to prevent it from occurring.

We also have a tendency to seek out quick fixes for stress like drinking too much alcohol, and eating or sleeping too much. Or we might try to eliminate what we think is the source of our stress and change jobs, move to a different community, or get a divorce. But stressful events continue to occur, regardless of where we are. So what can we do?

Stress resilience is the ability to recognize and acknowledge that a situation has become difficult or painful and choose a response that leads to growth. The American Psychological Association says it is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. “

Stress resilience takes time to build. It is a process and over time gets stronger. These are five practices  I advise for strengthening stress resilience.

  1. Know what gets you up in the morning and have a vision for your life that is worth working for. When stress presses down on me, it helps to think of what makes life worth living and keep exciting goals in front of me to help me get back up and going. If life doesn’t seem worth living, getting through stress might not feel worth it either.
  2. Remind yourself of your values and deeply held beliefs that guide your everyday actions and decisions. Doing this will help you keep things in perspective, because having a balanced perspective is one of the first things to go when you are in distress.
  3. Maintain a sense of equanimity or balanced emotional responses to whatever is going on around you. This is where time proven tactics like mindfulness and deep breathing can really help you calm down so that you can think more clearly and not catastrophize and fear that all is hopeless.
  4. Think back on other stressors you’ve lived through and remind yourself what worked well for you and consider doing that again. Remind yourself also of what did not work and avoid those behaviors. Knowing that you can get through this will strengthen your sense of optimism, confidence and hope for the future.
  5. Finally, don’t give up. It’s so tempting when everything seems to be going against you, or nothing seems to work out right, to want to give up. Sometimes it’s okay to retreat for awhile and gather your strength but then you need to get back out there and keep swinging.

Stress resilience does not develop overnight. It takes time, daily practice, soul searching and answering some tough questions:  What do we believe and value? Why do we bother to get up in the morning? What goals are worth pursuing? Are we confident in ourselves and abilities to figure things out? Why should I keep fighting?

Our stress resilience grows over time and slowly but surely begins to change how we approach adversity. In thousands of surveys I have learned that resilience increases as we age and I suspect that older people, who usually have had a great deal of experience with stress, learn to deal with stress by following the five practices above. I would love to hear what you think.  You can email me at