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Career Doctor: How can personal resilience help with stress management?

By Peter Cullen FIML

Resilience has become increasingly important in the workplace due to the positive impact it can have on an individual’s wellbeing and performance. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”.

Although some of us are more resilient than others, all of us become more susceptible to pressure and stress when our resilience is low. Everyone can benefit from activities that promote physiological, mental and emotional wellbeing.



Stress is the body’s natural response to pressure or alarming situations – those that make us uncertain whether or not we can cope. The factor or situation causing our stress either positively or negatively is called a stressor. Unfamiliar situations challenge or threaten us and increase our level of stress. A stress response may require higher energy levels to help us cope.

Occupational stress can be defined as the physiological, mental and emotional responses that occur when workers perceive an imbalance between their work demands, their capability, their access to resources and their level of control. Importantly, stress responses occur when the imbalance is such that the employee perceives they are not coping in crucial situations.

On the other hand, positive stress is beneficial and can improve performance. A natural and automatic function of the body is to provide extra energy to help us tackle a stressful situation. It will then naturally return to its former balanced state. This return to balance ensures ongoing health and wellbeing. Some of the body’s beneficial reactions to a stressful situation include: mental alertness, sugar release for energy, increased muscle responsiveness, faster heart rate, increased adrenaline and cortisol, increased blood pressure and faster breathing.

All these reactions occur automatically as the mind and body react to a stressful situation. It is necessary to remember that everybody copes differently with stress and everybody’s stress barrier is different.



To improve how we manage our stress and be more resilient, we need to build our self-awareness to better understand where we are physiologically, mentally and emotionally at any point in time. A simple method to use when you are in the moment is:

  • Identify how you are feeling and what you are thinking.
  • Ask yourself what effect these feelings and thoughts are having upon you.
  • Consider whether these feelings and thoughts are helpful or not.
  • Take action to address these feelings and thoughts if they are unhelpful, or simply continue as is, if they are helpful.


Reflect upon a previous stressful event that tested your resilience and follow the above method in your mind. This will help you gain a greater understanding of how this may be useful for you the next time a stressful situation arises.

We can also build and strengthen our resilience by engaging in a variety of activities as part of our normal way of life. Here are some suggestions:

PHYSIOLOGICAL: Aerobic exercise, strength and conditioning, yoga or stretching, healthy nutritious eating, hydration, breath work, appropriate sleep.

MENTAL: Meditation, self-reflection to build self-awareness, relaxation techniques, reframe your thinking, establish boundaries, set achievable goals.

EMOTIONAL: Strengthen constructive relationships, be appropriately honest with yourself and others, respect yourself, talk openly with trusted friends, know and live your personal values, seek support when necessary, learn techniques to manage your emotions.


We all can improve our level of resilience and maintain a strong physiological, mental and emotional state. When are you going to start improving your resilience and be the role model for others to follow?

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 edition of Leadership Matters, IML ANZ’s quarterly magazine. For editorial suggestions and enquiries, please contact


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