When it comes to our physical and emotional wellbeing, how we cope with the circumstances of our lives is as important as the circumstances themselves. What we end up with – happiness or unhappiness – depends on what we do with what we get.
In medical school, we learned that the disease caused by an infectious agent – viral or bacterial – depends on both infection and “host” factors. In general, those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk for a more severe infection. Bacteria that may cause a simple boil in one person could cause septic shock in another.
Sometimes our own bodies react in ways that are harmful to us.
This is analogous to the effects of stress and our reactions to it.
When our lives are already out of balance, when we have a host of other worries running in the background and when we’re nearing the tipping point for burnout, one more unexpected stress can blow us away.
That’s why one employee may be able to brush off a negative review at work, another will accept it as useful feedback, and a third may be totally devastated. Our baseline levels of stress – and our ability to cope with it – influence our response to life’s unpredictable challenges.
A strong sense of self and self-worth and flexibility of thought can make you more resilient to adversity. They help us conceptualize our circumstances in more positive and life-affirming ways. Without such resilience, we may succumb to anxiety and depression.
Next: Adaptive and Maladaptive Responses to Stress