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How to Build and Maintain Your Resilience Through Difficult Times: Four Strategies from Dr. Beth Cabrera

Dr. Beth Cabrera, First Lady of Georgia Tech spoke to Scheller MBA students and offers four strategies for building resilience to help get through difficult times.
Dr. Beth Cabrera

Dr. Beth Cabrera

In our everyday lives, we experience challenges – the loss of a loved one or a job, family demands, financial hardships, or breakups. Right now, not only are we facing everyday challenges but also national and global threats from the Covid-19 pandemic, racial unrest, political turmoil, and climate fluctuations. All of these situations can damage our emotional and physical well-being, leaving us feeling anxious and uncertain.

Dr. Beth Cabrera, the first lady of the Georgia Institute of Technology, founder of Cabrera Insights, and author of Beyond Happy: Women, Work and Wellbeing recently provided her guidance to Scheller MBA students in a leadership development course. She pointed out that two of the greatest sources of stress and anxiety are lack of control and uncertainty and these two emotions are prevalent in our current environment. However, we can increase resilience through adversities by taking specific actions each day. Dr. Cabrera suggested focusing on what you can control and offered four strategies for building resilience to help get through difficult times.

1. Create social connections.

According to Cabrera, the number one attribute that people with resilience have is social support. Creating and reaching out to a network of friends and keeping close tabs on relatives is crucial to growing your resiliency. If you haven’t been in touch with an old friend, now is a good time to reach out for a video chat. Reaching outside your circle of friends and relatives will also strengthen your resiliency.

Cabrera offered examples of community efforts and altruistic actions, including the help Georgia Tech faculty have given in the fight against Covid-19 through converting labs into places for making face shields, respirators, and testing kits. You can make extended connections by supporting a local restaurant or food bank, helping a neighbor with yard work, or spreading the word about a community need on social media.

2. Increase mindfulness.

According to Cabrera’s research, we spend 47% of our time distracted. Cabrera explained that humans don’t have mindfulness baked into our nature. Instead, we have minds that naturally wander. She has found that people who are distracted often are the most unhappy, suggesting a number of ways to develop our mindfulness.

Stop multitasking. Multitasking detracts from mindfulness. When you multitask, you force your brain to switch tasks back and forth, creating a few negative reactions: it destroys your productivity, increases your stress, and increases cortisol levels.

Turn off the notifications. The constant flow of notifications through phone and email can detract from mindfulness. Cabrera suggests minimizing distractions by turning off your device notifications and setting specific times of day to check email. If you’re in a leadership role, don’t expect employees to respond to your email immediately. Allow them to focus their time and efforts.

Meditate. When you’re feeling stress levels rise, Cabrera suggests practicing what she calls a “16-second meditation.” Take a deep breath for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and let your breath sit for four seconds. This short meditation will interrupt any negative thoughts you have and help reset your mind.

3. Harness the power of positivity.

According to Cabrera, positivity gives us more energy, self-confidence, and resilience. Plus, it contributes to overall health. She pointed to a study that looked at how positivity or negativity affected recovery from an illness. Researchers injected subjects with the cold virus and found that those with a more positive outlook were significantly less likely to get sick.

Cabrera recommended two techniques for creating a more positive attitude.

Implement the “three good things” rule. At the end of the day, simply write down three good things for which you’re thankful. In one study, researchers asked one group to do just that and another group to do nothing. Three months later, the group that practiced the “three good things rule” showed significantly higher levels of gratitude and positivity.

Prime yourself for positivity. In Cabrera’s research, she found that people who read three minutes of bad news a day were 27% more likely to report having a bad day, whereas people who read three good stories a day were 88% more likely to say they had a good day. While it may sound simplistic, producing a happy thought will result in better performance, she explained. For example, if you’re planning for a big test or a job interview, think good thoughts and chances are, you’re more likely to succeed.

4. Reframe stress as an opportunity for growth.

Your body responds to stress through a threat reaction commonly known as the “fight or flight” reaction. According to Cabrera, we need to train our bodies to go into a “challenge” reaction rather than a “fight or flight” reaction to control our stress and change our mindset. The “fight or flight” response restricts blood vessels and increases cortisol and adrenaline, whereas the challenge response sends more blood through your body and enhances your concentration and focus. A challenge reaction allows you to see adversity as a challenge and builds your resiliency.

Lastly, ask yourself how you can grow from difficulties and come out a better person. Cabrera emphasized that resilience comes from using coping skills to get through a hard time, and getting through a hard time, in turn, builds your confidence to overcome future challenges. Remember, if you can get through this pandemic, you can get through anything.

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