Winter 2014 - Resiliency Reader Index

We're pleased to announce that the RESILetter has a new name, Resiliency Reader! Our first edition is a collaboration of several contributors. We hope you find it useful! Read the emailed version of Resiliency Reader.

Stay Calm, Germany!

One of the biggest health insurance companies in Germany (Techniker Krankenkasse) has recently published a comprehensive study about the level of stress and its causes — with very interesting results and new insights.

According to the study the stress level in Germany is definitely increasing: two thirds of the participants in the study feel that they have more stress today than they had three years ago. The main source for this is their work life. But the high expectations they set themselves are the second biggest reason. So stress obviously does not only result from outside factors but also from personal attitudes. Further reasons lie in the private life, like personal conflicts, illness in the family, worries about finances and the care for home and children.

At the workplace many people feel they have too big a workload (65%) and not enough time (62%) for their tasks. That means that two thirds of the working people are experiencing chronic stress. On the other hand 71% of the participants in the study report to like their work and describe it as an important factor in their lives. So to have a meaningful job is certainly a protective factor and part of the resiliency needed to tackle the daily stress. Of the people who feel seldom or never stressed, 85% liked their job.

There appears to be a marked difference in the sources and results of stress in German men and women. More women than men feel stressed (63% vs. 52%) and more women suffer from chronic stress. Even in seemingly modern times women take on most of the responsibility for the family (housekeeping and raising of children). German women feel more stress in their family lives than at the workplace. Many women have an attitude of perfectionism and very high expectations of themselves. And since housework is never really finished they never feel that they have done enough.

This means that women have to work on different angles of their personalities and attitudes than men if they want to find a good way to handle stress. For professionals working in the field it might be interesting to think of different methods of stress-management to teach to men and women respectively. The question follows if there are perhaps aspects of resiliency that work differently for men and women?

Another important source of stress are conflicts in the private life or at work. Twenty percent suffer from conflicts with their colleagues or their boss. Usually conflicts have a strong emotional aspect which is more difficult to cope with than just differences in opinion. So ongoing conflicts at work are a major source of stress. To alleviate this, leadership-programs should include problem solving and conflict resolution, since managers are responsible for making a team work well together. And since it is such a wide spread problem it could be useful to train the employees as well to handle their problems and conflicts in a more productive and solution-oriented way. In my experience many people lack sufficient ability to solve problems in a systematic and positive way.

The study confirms the feeling of many people that stress levels are increasing. At the same time it offers possibilities and ideas to deal with the problem. On the side of the employers, workloads should be examined and adjusted and adequate training for managers and employees offered. The employees themselves should examine if their own attitudes are really helpful and learn effective strategies to deal with problems and conflicts.

In Germany, employers are responsible for the physical and mental well-being of their staff. The legislation regarding health and safety at work has been specified last year to include the mental well-being of employees as well. The German government has recognized that chronic work-related stress is a major health problem and puts more pressure on employers to reduce stress and help their staff to cope well.

(Source: "Bleib locker, Deutschland - TK-Studie zur Stresslage der Nation" [Stay calm, Germany - TK-study on the situation of stress in the nation], 2013)

Submitted by Julia Scharnhorst, Certified Resiliency Trainer, Germany

Correspondence address:
Dipl.-Psych. Julia Scharnhorst MPH
Health Professional Plus
Am Redder 11, 22880 Wedel, Germany
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Resilience of a Sponge

Our ability to "Bounce Back" and move forward is an attribute which provides confidence and security to face life's most challenging situations. The analogy of a bouncing ball rebounding in spite of adversity is a powerful metaphor as is the resiliency of a sponge. While the physical characteristics of a bouncing ball and a sponge are very different, there are noteworthy similarities.

A sponge after being twisted and tortured returns to its original state. While there is a definite limit to the abuse it can take, the sponge is resilient and "Bounces Back" to its initial form. We can learn much from the sponge both in its natural state in the ocean and its commercial state with which we are more familiar.

The living sponge we find in the ocean regenerates itself when cut from its base for commercial use. The treated sponge we buy in the store is remarkable in its ability to store water (information) and to return to its original state (Bounce Back) after being used and abused. When we face our challenges as if we were a sponge, we encounter new found significance in the most trying times of our lives.

"Resilience" is "The property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed; elasticity." This is the essence of the sponge. Our capacity to return to our, "original state," after being bent, stretched and twisted by the dynamic cycles of life is a worthy goal, while our ability to improve and learn through these challenges is ideal.

Those who achieve impressive feats in life are those who have the ability to look at problems as challenges and who are not afraid of failure. Failure is neither good nor bad, it simply is. Some of the most incredible discoveries have been the result of tremendous failures and harsh criticism.

A positive attitude, focus, flexibility, organization and initiative are characteristics which allow us to have the resilience of a sponge to Bounce Back from any situation which arises.

  • A positive attitude drives us to see problems as challenges
  • Intense focus permits us to continue on the right track
  • Flexibility creates a myriad of appealing alternatives
  • Organization facilitates the direction our destiny
  • Initiative compels us in the direction we desire

Success is not an accident, rather it is the result of the decisions we make daily. When we become aware of the way in which we see the world and, specifically, how we view our own trials and tribulations, we embark on a journey which illuminates the beauty of each stride in this incredible adventure we call life.

It's the Bounce that Counts!

Copyright © Rob McBride /
All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Book Review - Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back

Most books on resiliency are about principles and personal experiences dealing with trauma—from crushing disappointments to survival situations. Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in their book, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (978-1451683813, Simon & Schuster, 2013), broaden that scope to tackle ecology, business, national security, brain research, social structures and leadership. It is quite a ride!

One example shared in the introduction of how closely linked the world has become is how urbanized poverty, Katrina and the energy, agriculture, global trade, and political systems in Mexico and the U.S. led to the tortilla riots. Rational, even careful decisions can be too short-sighted in an unpredictable world. We need diversity, dissent, flexible systems and a complex view of the world.

Zolli and Healy discuss:

...expanding the range of alternatives that you can embrace if you need to. That is what resilience researchers call preserving adaptive capacity the ability to adapt to changed circumstances while fulfilling one's core purpose-and it's an essential skill in an age of unforeseeable disruption and volatility.

They discuss ensuring continuity by:

  1. de-coupling
  2. dynamic re-organization and
  3. embedded counter-mechanisms just as some organisms drop appendages or human bodies keep antibodies in the bloodstream to protect the system's health.

They describe specific "translational leaders" who promote such "adaptive governance" with formal institutions and informal networks to respond to crises. The military is making serious strides by developing expert resiliency consultants.

To keep complexity from defeating us, they point to many human and social success stories: people rooted in a strong culture or religious faith...those who access government resources and wise mentors...others who exercise vigorously and learn voraciously.

Social isolation and stagnancy dull the brain. Resilient people continuously stimulate their own synapses and their networks. Meditation is just one of the proven ways to keep one's emotions and brain healthy.

The authors give us practical hope:

New scientific research suggests that personal, psychic resilience is more widespread, improvable and teachable than previously thought. That's because our resilience is rooted not only in our beliefs and values, in our character, experiences, values and genes, but critically in our habits of mind-habits we can cultivate and change.

They cite Bonano's longitudinal research on natural disasters and the shock of losing a child or spouse that shows more people are resilient than vulnerable to PTSD.

Resilience is fundamental to how we raise our children, how we handle disruptive change and how we respond over time to the worst experiences life throws our way.

Whether by grit or by God, humans are indomitable.

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Anne Marie Healey (978-1451683813, Simon & Schuster, 2013)

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(Review provided by Glen Fahs, PhD)

Resilitator Roundtable: Thoughts on Bouncing Back

Adversity, major disruptions, and trying circumstances affect everyone. Resilient people handle their feelings in healthy ways with an expectation to rebuild their disrupted lives in a new way to that works for them. This struggle to overcome adversity develops new strengths in them. In The Resiliency Advantage, Dr. Al Siebert speaks to resiliency-psychology research. He says, "The most empowering finding … is that you have an inborn predisposition to become resilient and change-proficient." Below is a discussion thread between three of our Resilitators on concepts and ideas related to bouncing back. We invite you to provide your comments.

From Michelle Atlas:

I know that it is thought/understood that highly resilient people are capable of rallying from hardship relatively quickly (and it's what I facilitate in the course). At the same time, I'm questioning the "quickly" part. My personal coping style has often involved allowing a large container of time and space to explore and reflect upon various levels and facets to learn and grow through difficult experiences. My experience is that genuine transformation has a timing of its own, seems to take more time than one might want or expect, and at the same time, if rushed through to "adapt quickly" could really compromise the authenticity and staying power of the growth of learning. It's always felt to me that what matters most is not how quickly one adapts, but how honestly and deeply one understands what has occurred and the lessons available (I guess more of a focus on quality than speed). I'm thinking particularly with regard to trauma where a mentality of "quick" could greatly compromise the healing. And I think people are really different in this way as well, maybe sometimes having to do with whether one is extroverted versus introverted etc. I definitely have more of an introverted coping style.

That all being said, I know that in the work environment the capacity to adapt rapidly to a new reality is a crucial leadership competency and a whole other ballgame from a more extended personal journey.

From Glen Fahs:

Thought-provoking, Michelle. I too have mixed feelings about implying that it is wise to suck it up and move on without digesting. We could choke.

Hope you don't mind, but I am copying our conference speakers since it is good to reflect on such matters prior to our sessions together in July.

As you know, Bridges distinguished external change from internal transitions and advised on how to deal with endings and the neutral zone -- but how many corporate leaders understand his approach? Al counseled victims of trauma such as rape and kidnapping and thought even the most impressive survivors had disturbing dreams, feelings, etc. to work through.

One intercultural factor in the process is low context vs. high context personalities and cultures. The Western bias seems to be the faster we "move on" the better. In the East, we more seriously honor the visitor, the elder, the rituals, and the group. In the Middle East, wrongs from 1000 years ago have weight today. Females and other races value relationships and feelings more than the average Caucasian male. Does that relate to Native American struggles?

While it seems functional to deny feelings during times of threat, we need to share our high stress experiences and reflect on trauma or we are more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress. So the strong in the moment may be the suicide victim or mentally/emotionally disturbed person who can't adjust to their former culture. High context probably makes us less comfortable with change and more likely to seek the emotional support we need.

From Bill Swift:

There does often seem to be a misunderstanding of the resilient characteristic of rallying from hardship quickly. I like the way Gonzalez describes the attribute in his book Deep Survival. He calls it Perceive/Believe. The resilient survivor more quickly and fully understands their circumstances and begins to adapt and adjust from a position of strength. At the same time, the resilient person is fully experiencing all the feelings that go with the loss or transition and (learning from experience) knows that fully processing this loss may take some time, perhaps a long time. In addiction treatment we used to talk about the problems with a "quick recovery" not allowing the person to fully experience all the important feelings and transitions at their pace.

This is a good reminder for me to, while encouraging resiliency, not imply that we just snap back automatically.

Add to the discussion! Visit our Community Forum. © Al Siebert Resiliency Center
PO Box 505
Portland, Oregon 97207 USA

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