Take Control: 4 Everyday Practices to Build Resilience to Stress

August 26, 2019


Feeling stressed often goes hand in hand with feeling out of control. Consider the last time you felt overwhelmed or had too much on your plate. These are moments that test our ability to cope. 

Why do we sometimes collapse under pressure, while others handle it in stride? It comes down to resilience: the capacity to easily adjust to change and quickly recover from difficulties. 

When you’re resilient, you have a positive outlook and strong coping skills to regulate emotions. You’re also empathetic and have a high level of self-efficacy — confidence in your ability to succeed in a particular situation.

According to Kelley School of Business professor and professional communications coach Tatiana Kolovou, the best way to increase resilience is to get out of your comfort zone. 

Here’s how. You can use these four everyday practices from Kolovou’s course Building Resilience to prepare for the ebbs and flows of careers and life, and ensure you’re ready for whatever comes at you. Like working a muscle, practice resilience and it will be ready when you need it.  

1. Ask for things you may not get

Many of us have grown up with the belief that asking for things is a sign of weakness or a lack of intellect. Or maybe we fear being seen as high maintenance. So we avoid it.  

We don’t ask for what we want or need because we fear rejection. We can’t stand the possibility of a “no.” 

But here’s the thing: learning to tolerate rejection will boost resilience.

To shift how you respond to rejection, practice asking for things you may not receive. Start small, like asking for a discount on an item at the grocery store that’s not clearly marked as being on sale. The point isn’t to dupe the cashier; it’s to get used to hearing “no.” 

And when you hear “no,” don’t apologize; simply say something like “thanks for letting me know.” Then pat yourself on the back for stretching your asking muscles. 

Once you build confidence with day-to-day asks, you can progress to something more challenging, like asking a stranger to use their phone. Taking it even farther, Kolovou recommends going for a bigger, yet still realistic ask once a quarter, like asking your boss for a better working space, or asking a neighbor to take care of your pet or kids while you take a night off. 

2. Sign up to learn a new skill

Tackling a new skill, be it mental or physical, is a powerful way to increase resilience. Find something that piques your interest and go for it! Maybe it’s learning a new language or how to make sushi, trying stand-up paddleboarding, or painting with watercolors. 

Regardless of the activity, attempting a new skill helps you learn how to fail. When you create opportunities to fail and try again, you’re teaching your brain to build new pathways that support a resilient mindset. 

In those moments when you’re feeling incompetent and questioning your motivation, don’t give up — remember that it’s all part of your training. Resilience comes from facing your challenge head on, struggling, and diving back in to try again.

3. Choose the unknown

It’s natural to gravitate to a comfortable routine and what’s familiar. But according to Kolovou, resilience is all about discomfort. 

It’s only by seeking the “unknown, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable” that we’ll improve our resilience.

This may be as simple as riding your bike up a steep hill (knowing you may not make it) or something more challenging like relocating to an office in a city you’ve never been to. 

The intent of this exercise isn’t to manufacture misery. It’s to deliberately face challenging situations that get you comfortable with the uncomfortable, and prepare you for stressful events in the future. 

4. Maintain positive self-talk 

As you stretch yourself out of your comfort zone — bit by powerful bit — you’ll undoubtedly get frustrated and discouraged. Notice your inner dialogue, and when you veer towards negativity, make the shift to positive self-talk. 

First, choose and use better words:

  • Replace failure with obstacle

  • Replace downfall with setback

  • Replace horrible with challenging

Second, coach yourself with a mantra that resonates, like:

  • This is tough, but I’ll get through it.

  • Let’s focus on what I can control. 

  • I’m strong and can overcome this.

Third, rein in those unruly thoughts:

  • Think short-term: remember that negative events are temporary, and will change. Instead of worrying about the situation lasting forever, focus on the here and now. 

  • Think local: rather than comparing yourself to others (which is bound to fuel more negativity), focus on what you can do to change the situation.

  • Keep perspective: ask yourself what the worst-case scenario may be, and commit to finding a silver lining.

Replay it in your head. Speak it aloud. Write it down. Whatever methods you use, you’ll be training yourself to respond with a positive perspective in all setbacks you face.

It won’t always be easy, but it will always be effective.

Ready to up-level your resilience skills? Watch Tatiana Kolovou’s Building Resilience for additional advice on how to bounce back from difficult situations.

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