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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Fight stress by building resiliency, January 28, 2008, 2D.

One of the most stressful times of my life was suffering through my comprehensive exams and dissertation in graduate school.  I had invested years of my life and passed up on other productive opportunities to earn a graduate degree.  The successful completion of graduate school required that I successfully complete the comprehensive exam and dissertation.  The reasons that these two events were stressful are because they involved uncertainty and importance.

Ongoing and long-term stress can be harmful to individuals.  High blood pressure, cardio-vascular problems, fatigue, and compromised immune systems are some physical reactions to continued stress.  Feelings of helplessness and being out of control, anxiety, depression, and worry are psychological reactions to stress.  If not properly managed and controlled, stress can have detrimental effects on people.

To help cope with the stress that came from the final two obstacles of my formal higher education, I would play racquetball several times a week with a group of friends.  I also regularly played in softball and basketball leagues with friends from church.  When engaged in those activities, the nervousness and anxiety of graduate school disappeared—they were out of my mind.  Participating in activities with groups of friends who were not consumed with the same types of worry and anxiety that I was experiencing helped keep things in perspective for me.  My friends also provided me with encouragement and support through my trials.

Staying physically active, keeping my problems in perspective, and having a group of supportive friends helped me develop resiliency.  Resiliency, as defined in the dictionary, refers to “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by stress.”  Resilient people “bend” rather than “break” while under stress and then recover once it is removed. 

There are three types of resiliency—physical, psychological, and social.  Physical resiliency comes from developing and maintaining a strong and healthy body.  Eating well, engaging in regular and vigorous exercise, and getting plenty of rest are ways to enhance your body’s ability to handle and bounce back from stress.  Psychological resiliency comes from developing a hardy personality, accepting a love of challenge, recognizing small wins, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle—that is, allowing time for many types of activities and interests.  Finding mentors, supportive friends, and others who have been through similar experiences helps develop social resiliency.  A combination of all three types of resiliency should be nurtured and maintained.

The American Institute of Stress reports that the estimated cost of stress to U.S. industry, in terms of accidents, absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, workers' compensation awards, tort and Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) judgments, and direct medical, legal, and insurance costs, is $300 billion annually.  By developing programs to help workers build resiliency, businesses and organizations can save untold amounts of money on stress-related expenses and simultaneously develop healthier and more productive workforces.  It may be costly to firms to create and maintain employee health and wellness programs, but not doing so might be even more costly.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved