Understanding Links between Resilience Stress and Rumination


Stress is caused by the way you react to an event.

How is it that people can have different reactions to the same event? For example, one person may become stressed and overwhelmed, while the other person can stay resilient and even receive positive motivation from it.

"...You can't always change the circumstances you find yourself in, such as a global pandemic, but you can learn methods and mindsets that help you feel resilient and confident rather than stressed and anxious..."

Nick Petrie, 2020

There are 3 conditions for high stress:

i) high sense of uncertainty (you don't know what the future holds)

ii) low sense of control (you feel powerless to influence events)

iii) stakes seem high (the implications of what could or could not happen seem horrendous)

NB You prefer certainty and permanency but the world is not like that.

To be resilient in disruptive times, you need 3 things:

i) methods to decrease mental and emotional stress

ii) healthy habits that increase physical energy

iii) a proven process to grow from a current adversity

Some steps to decrease your stress and increase your resilience in disruptive times

1. Understanding what causes stress (rumination)

The way you react to an event can cause stress. Events can be

- work-related (changing job, organisational restructure, retirement, loss job, etc)

- personal and family-related (death, illness, injury, family break-up, financial crisis, etc)

- community-related (pandemic, economic crisis, global crisis, etc) etc. 

Events can be big, like loss of job, to small, like misplaced car keys.

Many of the events that cause stress are unavoidable, ie just how life is, eg people die, crises come and go, etc

Need to separate pressure from stress, ie

"...Pressure is defined as external demand on your environment..."

Nick Petrie, 2020

Stress eventuates when you ruminate about the event, ie

"...Rumination is thinking over and over about the events of the past or future and attaching negative emotions to them..."

Nick Petrie, 2020

Rumination can cause 3 main negative outcomes

i) health (when ruminating, your body responds as if it is physically threatened, ie flight or fight or freeze. This causes your body to produce 2 hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) in quantities that can have a negative impact on your health like coronary problems and suppression of the immunity)

ii) productivity (when ruminating you are in a dream state of mind and not working)

iii) emotions (negative emotions dominate while ruminating, ie not happy, feeling miserable, etc)

Adrenaline speeds up your heart rate. This is OK in small doses but if it continues for any length of time it puts a strain on the heart and can result in a build up of plaque and increased risk of heart  attacks.

Similarly, cortisol is no problem in small doses but in larger doses it stalls our white cell production and thus surpresses immune function.


- can have a negative impact on your productivity as you focus on rumination, ie busy re-thinking  past events, etc, and not working

- makes people feel exhausted and miserable

"...Stress can give you a shorter, miserable and unproductive life..."

Nick Petrie, 2020

Those who do little or no ruminating tend to be more successful in life. They thrive on pressure.

However if you are not a ruminator, it does not mean that you do not care and/or lack motivation. It just means that you do not allow stress to get to you.

2. Deploy some characteristics (10) to increase resilience:

- optimism (staying positive about the future even when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles)

- altruism (willing to help others, even when they need to relieve stress and boost their self-efficacy)

- moral compass (those with a  steadfast set of beliefs about what is right and wrong; generally bounce back quickly)

- faith and spirituality (can help people survive challenges and come through the experience, stronger and wiser)

- humour (a healthy sense of humour, especially being able to laugh at one's own misfortune)

- role model (having a positive role model to draw strength from and a desire to emulate this person)

- social supports (those with strong social support networks are better able to bounce back from loss or disappointment)

- facing fear (those who are willing to leave their comfort zone and confront their fears are more likely to overcome the challenges and grow as a person)

- meaning or purpose in life (those who feel they have a specific purpose in life or find a tremendous amount of meaning in their lives are better able to recover from failure, disappointment, tragedy, loss, etc)

- training (there is always an opportunity for improvement)

(source: Courtney Ackerman, 2020)

3. Reflect rather than ruminate

We need to learn from the past but not live in it. This will help us plan for the future. This involves reflection, not rumination, ie the latter involves letting the past dominate your thoughts.

Reflection involves reviewing the past and planning for the future, with a positive or neutral attitude. Ruminations, by contrast, involves an endless cycle., or downward spiral, of regretting the past and having anxieties about the future while being dominated by negative emotions or thoughts.

A good question to ask when becoming fixated on a challenging situation:

"...Am I reflecting in order to make a plan, or am I ruminating and making myself stressed?..."

Nick Petrie, 2020

4. Wake up and stay awake

Sleep is a continuum, ie

i) wide-awake

ii) waking sleep

iii) sleepwalking

iv) dreaming sleep

v) deep sleep

While most of us think we are awake during the day, it has been found that up to 70% of our day you are in a state of 'waking sleep'. For example:

"...You may be in a meeting, but you are really dreaming about the past or future..."

Nick Petrie, 2020

All your rumination takes place during waking sleep. Thus to reduce rumination, you need to wake up, ie bring yourself back to the present moment and out of your day dream!!

Some possible ways to wake yourself up include

using 3 senses (take a deep breath and pay attention to what you feel in your body right now. Next listen to the sounds you can hear in the environment. Then look around and notice 3 colours or patterns you haven't previously noticed. Finally, use all 3 senses, ie feeling, hearing and seeing, at once)

- rumination partner (one of the best ways to reduce ruminations is to express your emotion. Find a friend who will allow you to vent your emotions for around 5 minutes without interruption. The other person is not allowed to try to solve the problem, give advice or get involved. After the venting, the meeting ends)

"...the more you catch yourself ruminating and wake yourself up, the more you will feel the stress reduce..."

Nick Petrie, 2020

5. Refocus on your circle of control

You need to identify things that you can or cannot control. Ruminators spend too much time thinking about the uncontrollable in your life rather than focusing on things that you can control.

Write in separate columns events you can and cannot control, eg

Events you can control Events you cannot control
- quality of your life - financial cycles like stock market movements, house prices, etc
- taking breaks - pandemics
- how much you exercise - elections
- listening to others - other people's challenges
- supporting colleagues - politicians
- what you eat - weather
- working on hobbies, etc - media, etc

Questions to help understand the circle of control:

- what is outside of your circle of control over the next 3 months?

- what is inside your circle of control over the next 3 months?

- where are you currently focusing most of your attention?

- how can you support each other to keep your attention inside your circle of control going forward?

6. Detach and put things in perspective, ie learn lesson(s) and move on quickly.

You need to find a way to keep things in perspective and not to personalise things that don't belong to you.

The opposite to this is when we take things personally and catastrophise, ie think of the worst case scenario and continually play them in your mind.

People's scores on the attachments and ruminations tend to be inversely correlated, ie people with high scores in attachment tend to have low scores in rumination, and vice versa.

The attachment does not mean being cold or aloof; it is a measure of sensitivity. Someone can be both sensitive and detached. These people usually make good coaches, managers and doctors as they are very caring and empathetic but do not take on your emotions and/or ownership of your problem.

Some ways of keeping things in perspective

- contrasting (several methods include

    i) think of something bigger and more important than what you are ruminating about

    ii) compare your current worry with past bigger events you have experienced

    iii) use a phrase that shrinks things down to size, eg we are all human, etc)

- gratefulness (this is a good buffer against stress as you can only give your attention to one thing at a time. By focusing on what you are grateful for means that you are not ruminating. It will put you in a better mindset to take positive action. Even if the event is not inherently good, you can extract some good from it)

- reframe anxiety as excitement (the biochemistry of anxiety is almost identical to that of excitement. By reframing or relabelling your experiencing as exciting, people feel and performed better. This is sometimes called changing from a 'threat' state to a 'challenge' state

7. Healthy diet with exercise (see elsewhere in the knowledge base)

NB Need to be aware of the 'mental handcuffs' you put on yourselves, ie reasonable reasons not to do something, eg you will do it later, it is somebody else's responsibility, it is not important or urgent, etc

(source: https://www.change-management-institute.com/resources/resilience-disruptive-times-nick-petrie-webinar-recording)


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