Stress is ubiquitous. We are in constant interaction with elements of life that challenge us. This is normal.
Stress burnout occurs as a result of consistent challenge without strong pillars of resilience.
Over the last few months, I have outlined four pillars that foster the ability to bounce back from burnout:
- Sense of Purpose;
- Social Support; and lastly
This month’s post – focused on Adaptability – marks the last in the collection of exercises that, when done regularly, can assist in building resilience. How we react to a stressor will depend greatly on the balance of these four pillars.
Before identifying a healthy adaptable nature, let’s explore the kind of adaptability that detracts from resilience. I call this the ‘Yes in us’. A ‘Yes in us’ encourages us to make statements like “Whatever you want” – even if we have a preference, “I don’t care” – even when we do, or “That’s okay” – even when it isn’t, and the most pervasive “Sure”.
Wanting to accommodate others can lead to exhaustion.
Responding positively before having honestly assessed a response is not adaptable, it is passive and conflict avoidant. These traits are the antithesis of resilience.
The ‘Yes in us’ may make us seem adaptable, but it is unfortunately out of balance with our purpose and confidence. Lopsided tendencies rarely help stability.
- Excess accommodation can build resentment for being taken advantage of.
- Excess focus on purpose and confidence can create isolation from projecting an obstinate nature.
There is a point between malleable and stubborn where healthy adaptability lies and resilience thrives.
Adaptability is how we regulate our emotions in new and/or unexpected situations.
When we are unable to recognize our temperament and reactivity in a challenge, a temper tantrum ensues – yes, even in adults. These tantrums are much more than the classic ‘losing your cool’ description.
Temper tantrums are extreme emotions displayed out-of-proportion to the situation at hand. Tantrums occur when we are frustrated/angry/sad/disappointed/scared and do not have the words or opportunity to communicate our feelings.
Tantrums exist in a wide range of adult actions such as, but not limited to:
- Road rage
- Inconsolable crying
- Yelling at a pet/object/child
- Rash decision making
- Binge eating/drinking
- Dwelling on and holding grudges
- Silent treatment
- Punching/Breaking items
Managing severe adult temper tantrums is beyond the scope of this article, but we can use mindfulness techniques to help us understand the behaviours and emotions that regulate us.
There are six main traits that determine our adaptability. Listed below, they are paired with questions that help you check your tendencies. I call this the PRO/ACE acronym.
P – Patience – Patience without perspective leads to frustration.
Under what circumstances do you become impatient with a person/place/situation? How long do you wait before making difficult decisions?
R – Reactivity – How well we self-regulate our impulses.
When you feel an emotion arise, do you express it immediately (reactive) or let it metabolize before expressing (responsive)?
O – Order – Methods that are unyielding to the unexpected will collapse, but spontaneity without steady structure will explode.
How would you describe your need for/resistance to order?
A – Awareness – Context appropriate communication.
Can you assess the climate of a situation and tactfully speak up for your needs in a group?
C – Creativity – Managing potential problems & solutions.
When an obstacle arrives can you stay on task and still envision new ideas under pressure?
E – Empathy – A balance of rationale and compassion.
Do you bend for another’s needs, or armour yourself against another’s pleas?
There is not one right way to be a PRO/ACE. Too much of these traits in any direction will de-stabilize our adaptability.
In different contexts, we may notice our traits shift. We will all have something, at some point.
It is our job – using mindfulness techniques – to acknowledge the weaknesses in our temperaments and reflect on how we can address these traits. The adaptability exercise may change daily.
An exercise to diffuse your temper: three minutes at the end of each day, before talking to anyone about your day:
Start a three-minute timer on.
Recall the your tendency for the above questions (or print it out and take a peek). Choose one trait that was challenged in your day.
Close your eyes.
Inhale & Exhale deeply, three times.
“Today, my __________ (patience, reactivity, sense of order, awareness, creativity, empathy) was challenged".
"Tomorrow I will be more or less____________ (patient, reactive, orderly, aware, creative, empathic)”.
Inhale and exhale deeply, three times.
That’s it! Everyday – that’s the hardest part.
Changes in habit occur most effectively with small and frequent repetitions. Build resilience with confidence, purpose, support and adaptability – slowly. If we can learn the tools to bounce back from burnout, we might make burnout a thing of the past! Step up to your challenges with a varied and adaptable toolbox.