Resilience, Pressure Management and Wellbeing:
The 3-Dimensional Approach
Because of the misplaced belief that loss of resilience is a sign of weakness, many people tend to avoid a deeper understanding of what it is and, as a consequence, fail to make changes in their behaviour that would make them more able to manage its negative effects.
The result can be patterns of behaviour and illness ranging from the relatively minor, such as individuals working below their capacity, to major physical and psychological injuries.
The Three Dimensional Approach
It is useful to classify approaches to resilience according to whether they emphasise ‘stimulus’ (stressors) ‘response’ (signs of strain) or ‘transactional’ (intervening) variables.
The Stimulus Approach: The First Dimension.
According to definitions which focus on ‘stimulus’ variables, loss of resilience and/or the experience of stress are essentially due to conditions of the environment; for example, too high (or low) a temperature, or too high (or low) a level of stimulation or demand.
In simple terms, programmes for maintaining resilience which are based on this approach seek to distinguish ‘stressful’ from ‘non-stressful’ features of the environment and to reduce the former whilst providing more of the latter.
The Response Approach: The Second Dimension.
Definitions which emphasise ‘response’ variables begin from the position that a person can be said to be suffering from a loss of resilience only if sufficient ‘signs of strain’ – e.g. tension, loss of appetite (or binge-eating), impaired concentration, or abnormal workplace behaviours are present.
Programmes for promoting resilience which are based on this approach will therefore focus upon those individuals who are showing marked ‘signs of strain’ and will seek to relieve their symptoms by providing opportunities for relaxation, physical exercise and/or healthy eating.
One of the most effective techniques from within this approach is 7/11 breathing – breathing in to the count of 7 and out to the count of 11. (The figures themselves are not important. The crucial thing is that your out-breath is significantly longer than your in-breath; thus signalling to your brain-body system that the emergency has passed and that it’s time to return your body to its pre-stress state).
The Transactional Approach: The Third Dimension.
Finally, definitions which focus upon ‘intervening’ variables suggest that it is our perception of the demands facing us – rather than the demands themselves – which result in impaired wellbeing and/or the experience of stress.
This, of course, is not a new position to take up. In the First Century A.D. Epictetus wrote, “People are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them.” It does, though, rather “cut-across” many current popular views of stress, which tend to see people as passive, helpless victims.
In contrast, programmes for maintaining resilience which focus upon ‘intervening’ variables acknowledge that stress does not result simply from exposure to challenging demands. If it did, then all who are exposed to work-place pressures would, inevitably, succumb to the ravages of impaired wellbeing. And, clearly, this is not the case – what is stressful to some is invigorating and motivating to others.
What this approach teaches us is that loss of resilience is largely a consequence of the irrational ideas and demands that people impose upon themselves.
For example, imagine you are giving an important presentation at work; your every attempt at humour is falling flat and you start feeling stressed. It would be easy to conclude that your stress comes directly from the poor reception to your presentation. But this would be false. In such a situation, it is likely that you would be generating your own stress, by saying to yourself something along the lines of, “I absolutely must give an outstanding presentation; it is awful that it is not going well, and this confirms that I’m not up to the job.” With such a belief activated, it is hardly surprising that you would become ever-less resilient and that your presentation would deteriorate still further.
BUT, how different would your experience be if, in the same situation, you were to remind yourself that, “Just because I would prefer to give an outstanding presentation, there is no law in the universe that says that I MUST do so…It is disappointing that it hasn’t started off as well as I’d hoped it would; but I’m a resourceful person and I can still turn it around…”
With this appraisal activated, you would retain control of your emotional response to the situation; be far more likely to succeed in achieving the goals of your presentation – and remain in competency mode (as the most evolved animal that ever lived) rather than descending into survival mode, operating, effectively as a hairless chimp!
Maintaining resilience from this perspective requires a commitment to a coaching or training approach so that people better understand the relationship between their ‘perceptions’ (or ‘beliefs’) and their ability to manage successfully the increasing demands made upon them.
John Perry, MA, MA, MA, MSc. FHEA. 2018.