By JJ Virgin
"Your credit card declined," the server quietly told my friend recently at Sunday brunch.
I'm always fascinated how people respond in those uncomfortable situations. Some fall apart over the tiniest conflict, becoming defensive and frustrated. My friend kept her cool, joking about needing an ATM machine ASAP.
How you respond to the numerous obstacles life throws your way - called resiliency - can impact your stress levels. Like my friend, perhaps you role with the punches, or maybe you become stressed-out over the smallest altercation.
The impacts of stress become more far-reaching than you might realize. They can wreck your quality of life and your hormones. Adrenal hormones like cortisol stay ramped up, leading to a miserable "wired and tired" feeling.
Stress can also make you sick. One meta-analysis that evaluated 300 studies over 30 years found a strong relationship between stress and your immune system.
Managing stress can even boost longevity. One study found older highly resilient people have a 43.1% higher likelihood of turning 100 compared to those with lower levels of resilience.
Over the years I've researched characteristics of highly resilient people, who gracefully maneuver through life's most stressful situations. I discovered highly resilient people embody these five characteristics that can also help you deal with life's inevitable storms.
They Don't Use Food to De-Stress
A chocolate éclair might become tempting to de-stress after a brutal day at work, but that few minutes of bliss comes with some detrimental long-term costs.
"Consuming refined sugar... [and other] refined carbohydrates leads to a spike and then drop in blood sugar levels, which can result in anxiety, nervousness and irritability," says Trudy Scott, author of The Antianxiety Food Solution. She points out a study that shows chronic stress sometimes triggers comfort food binges.
Action Step: Trade the processed, high-sugar foods for lean protein, healthy fats, lots of cruciferous and leafy veggies, and slow-release high-fiber starches to steady your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Going cold turkey off sugar doesn't work. My upcoming book The Sugar Impact Diet provides smart, simple strategies to gradually taper off sugar without losing your sanity.
They Exercise Intelligently
Studies show stress impairs your efforts to stay physically active. The opposite is also true: Staying active reduces stress. You've likely felt that post-workout stress-zapping endorphin rush, elevating your mood and even improving stress-damaged thinking.
Burst training, or high-intensity interval training, is my favorite exercise for busy, stressed-out professionals to better cope with the challenges life throws their way. Burst training demands just minutes of your time, so you can fit it into the busiest schedule.
Action Step: Incorporate burst training with weight training into your workout plans. Spending a few minutes, three times a week to burn fat and bust stress will improve your mood - and your resilience to life's challenges.
They Consistently Get Optimal Sleep Levels
On a practical level, sleep deprivation makes morning rush hour even more miserable as you imagine your boss reprimanding you for being late while devouring your third dark roast. Frustrating episodes throughout your sleep-deprived day become monumental events that leave you even more stressed. A chicken-or-egg cycle ensues as stress cuts into your sleep.
Among other problems, studies show chronic stress and sleep loss increase your risk for depression and other mood disorders.
Action Step: People who manage stress well consistently make time for 7 - 9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. You'll find you're more productive and capable of rolling with whatever stress the following day throws at you.
They Make Relaxation a Priority
"I just don't know how to relax," a colleague told me recently. Leisure time gets short shift as our work-more mentality pervades. Schedule relaxation and prioritize it just like you would an important client.
One study found a massage could lower your stress hormone cortisol while boosting your feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Another study among the elderly found acupuncture could reduce stress and boost lymphocyte production. Studies also show regularly practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) can be effective against chronic stress.
Action Step: Find what works for you to unwind and de-stress, even if that means watching a silly movie or having a coffee date with your beset friend, and prioritize it in your schedule.
They Cultivate Gratitude and Joy
Even in the most adverse circumstances, highly resilient people maintain an optimistic, can-do attitude. They find pleasure in life's little situations - like, say, a good cup of organic dark roast - and they show others their appreciation.
They also find unique outlets to express that positivity. One study published in the journal Psychiatry found people who kept a gratitude journal experienced more joy and optimism.
Action Step: Keep a gratitude journal and write down five things every day. Whether through a phone call or thank-you card, make time every day to tell one person how much you mean to them.
As you can see, chronic stress creates a domino effect that can affect numerous areas of your life. You can't eliminate stress, but you can learn to reduce its impact and develop a resilient attitude that pulls you through life's toughest challenges.
Some people seem born with resiliency. Others learn it. With a little planning, you can use these action steps to improve yours.
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author JJ Virgin is a prominent fitness and nutrition expert, public speaker, and media personality.
Internationally recognized as an expert in overcoming weight loss resistance (a self-coined term to describe people who do everything correctly and can't attain weight loss), JJ has helped thousands attain fast fat loss by addressing food allergies, food sensitivities, and other food intolerances. Clients feel better fast and get fast, lasting fat loss when they drop her 7 highly reactive foods.