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July 19, 2013

Health and Well-Being: The importance of stress hardiness

Stress hardiness is the ability to withstand high levels of stress without suffering illness or reduced enjoyment of life.

The concept of stress hardiness allows us to understand why the same levels of stress can affect two individuals differently. One person might become ill and stay that way for months, while another person, in the same situation, can seem to carry on without any signs of diminished functioning. He or she can actually be strengthened by stress.

Stress hardiness underscores the important role that psychological factors play in determining our reaction to stress. When stress-resilient and stress-vulnerable personalities are compared, some interesting differences emerge. Stress hardiness has been associated with a sense of passion and purpose in life. This emotional connection with life can generate feelings of personal power and control over life events. It also begets an active commitment to ourselves. A loving and courageous connection to life can help us see the problems and circumstances that generate stress as challenging rather than threatening.

Our response to stress depends on the nature of our conditioned personality and our self-image. If we have a negative self-image, our habitual patterns of thinking and feeling will contribute to our feeling bad about ourselves and powerless and helpless to modify and change the circumstances that we are facing. If I lose a tennis match, for example, I might conclude that I am a bad athlete who cannot really do anything to improve my game to be better able to compete with others. Or if I am a salesperson and I have not made a sale in the past week, I may fall prey to feeling personally rejected and forlorn. These are classic stress-vulnerable attitudes.

A stress-vulnerable attitude can be eliminated and a stress-hardy one developed. To do so, we must discover, identify and modify our conditioned self-image. Then we can dismantle the negative patterns of thinking and feeling that lead us into experiences of powerlessness and frustration. These patterns are like an endless stream that picks us up and carries us away into the very predictable territory of feeling less than or other than we should be.

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