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Hardiness: Health Under Stress

By Thomas M. Spahn, EdD
April 2023

Hardiness: Health Under Stress

In respect to offering ideas for HRA's blog I consider what has been beneficial offering to people over 40 years of working with individuals, families, and organizations. Stress is a frequent concern with a very negative perspective. There are thoughts it causes illness or poses a detrimental effect upon individuals, families and organizations. This in lieu of realizing stress is an inherent component of life and the basic fact that some people cope well, and others seem to thrive during stressful times.

When Stress Becomes Strain, When Strain Becomes Illness

An interesting outlook was attained within the book "The Hearty Executive; Health Under Stress" Maddi and Kobasa 1984. The premise of this interesting research was trying to identify differences between those who cope well under extremely stressful situations and those who do not. The primary thought was how to develop and prepare people who face difficult environmental stressors through "Hardiness." The book researched Illinois Bell Telephone when the telecommunication industry was ordered to break into smaller components. This was referred to as the "Management situation from Hell." The primary theme was identifying people who adjusted well and those who struggled. A model grew out of this research that was termed "Hardiness." The goal was to identify the traits/behaviors of people who coped well versus those who did not.

Stress – Strain – Illness: The primary theme was finding a difference between behaviors, attitudes, perspectives, that resisted stress from becoming strain. In essence, there are stressors and to what extent do stressors put strain upon an individual or organization? The second theme is what is iif stress becomes illness?

Stress Becoming Strain: What minimized stress from becoming a destructive component or strain included several aspects. An overriding theme was the element of optimism versus negativism. This is not a naive concept of believing the world is a productive, humanistic setting. Optimism is a person's attitude that focuses upon problem-solving rather than wondering what is the use.

This outlook (termed optimism) was different from one who was anxious, assumed effort would be unproductive and saw little hope for a reasonable if not positive outcome. Optimism was counter to individuals who tended to be negativistic, defeatist, blaming, finger pointing, obstructionistic, etc.

Support System: It is interesting that one of the vital components of stress becomes strain focused upon an individual's support system. There were productive versus problematic support systems. One problematic system was people gathering to complain and exaggerate which accentuated a person's negativistic perspective. A second problematic system was seeking excessive comfort or distraction. This system stresses one has never been appreciated, been treated unfairly, needs a long vacation or there was little hope.

A productive support system was like a coach. One was listened to, understood, appreciated, yet there is an element of tomorrow is Round 2. Hopefully within this support, there is thought about what is OK, what could happen, and it's time to get back in the ring. In essence, there is support yet also an emphasis upon a person's importance, worth, analysis, plan and thoughts about the future.

In summary, an individual sees the future as challenging, difficult, yet worth doing. There are thoughts about moving ahead and they worked diligently to keep themselves healthy, and surrounded themselves with people who bring value and encouragement rather than defeatism. The atmosphere is people contributing to a problem solution, assuming responsibility, and committed to follow through.

Strain Becoming Illness: Strain become illness when a person becomes immobilized and injured. This is the injured athlete, a wounded soldier, a person who is immobilized by anxiety and discouragement, or an organization that fails to function.

Preventing illness requires self-knowledge. Each person's stress response is unique. One might have tight neck muscles, a sour stomach, headache, rapid heart rate etc. Often there are psychological issues of becoming impatient, angry, negativistic, discouraged, etc.

After a person recognizes the strain, the question is how to recoup. The undersigned appreciates people who understand the importance of exercise as well as rest. Creativity is important as well as being good at something that has nothing to do with making a living. Another helpful thought is being excited about something once a week that doesn't mean anything. Sometimes it is good to take a little trip without leaving home with a quiet visualization. One needs to enjoy and play.

The vital element of productive health is having somebody to talk to who cares. My father always offered sound advice when he said success in life requires "knowing who to call." This might be an accountant, attorney, minister, or a special someone who is "one of us that sees life as a joke."

Stress is a necessary, inevitable part of life and preventing stress from becoming debilitating can be a challenge. Anxiety is the energy that has not found a productive outlet, like a steam locomotive that cannot move. A vital theme is the best way to respond to emotions or stress is "how one thinks and acts" which is under our control.

About the Author

Thomas M. Spahn, EdD

Thomas M. Spahn, EdD

Thomas Spahn, Ed.D., has worked in varied mental health settings since 1975 and at HRA Psychological Services since 1985. Efforts have been focused upon being a resource to individuals, families, and organizations that are going through difficult times.

I wish you well. Breathe.

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