The Stress Hardy Personality

Everyone I talk to these days is tired, distracted, and anxious. There is much uncertainty in our lives and much continued disruption. The definition of stress is: A response to any pressure or demand, requiring change or adaptation. Sound familiar? These are challenging times.   “Doom scrolling” is a new term for our times when you can’t stop scrolling through your news or social media feed and just can’t pull yourself away.  Well my dear friends, that isn’t helping!  I want to introduce to you today some old research from 1979 about the Stress Hardy Personality. Like the cactus in this photo, flowering despite inhospitable conditions.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Dr. Susan Kobasa and Dr. Salvote Maddi did a ground breaking study in 1979 with  the executives of the Bell Telephone Company during a major restructuring of the organization.  They were curious about why some people seem impervious to stress and even thrive and others don’t.  What they found was that those with certain personality characteristics had 50% less stress related health issues. These hardy traits, known as the 3 C’s are:

  • Challenge:  Seeing stressors as opportunities for growth and change.
  • Control:  Having an internal locus of control, in other words, not being a victim to the external circumstances of your life.
  • Commitment:  To self, others or a mission. Your purpose protects you.

They found about 30% of the population they studied had those traits naturally. We now know that these traits can be cultivated by practicing certain “stress hardy” skills.  The brain is changeable and we can learn to choose our thoughts and responses with practice and intention.

Practicing stress reduction and mindfulness meditation will help you to develop these stress hardy skills:

  • Learn to pause and breathe before reacting.
  • Learn to observe your thoughts and not identify with them. You don’t have to believe your thoughts!
  • Practice daily self-compassion. What we are all going through is hard. Acknowledge that give yourself a break and some gratitude for all that is going right in your life.
  • Commit to a daily meditation practice. From a place of calm stillness, ask what’s possible now?

For more inspiration and wisdom on this topic I highly recommend the beautiful and brilliant book, Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms”to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

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