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Workplace stress? Try building resilience

Stress affects all aspects of our life—and the workplace is one of the major stressors for many people.

While we can’t avoid challenges at work, we can build resilience to better handle them. Employees can learn to identify, manage and bounce back more quickly and effectively recover from challenging situations when they are resilient. Resilience translates into better stress management and improved overall health.

Personal resilience is described as the ability to be realistically optimistic, flexible, motivated and determined throughout the ups and downs of everyday life. It means having the capacity to adapt to stress and adversity and move on.

Resilience increases a person’s ability to live a positive life—in spite of any challenges that might occur. Think of a willow tree. It bends in the wind, then bounces right back. It may bend, but doesn’t break. Every time this happens, personal resilience is strengthened, which in turn helps that person face future challenges as they occur.

Studies show that practicing various aspects of resilience can significantly improve quality of life and even add years to a person’s longevity.

Here are some practical ideas to promote resilience.

Promoting physical resilience

To help build physical resilience, get up and move around! Americans are spending more time seated than ever. Our sedentary culture is wreaking havoc on our bodies. Research studies show that sitting is taking a major toll on employee health. Employees go from sitting in the car … to sitting at the office … then sitting on the couch at home.

There is strong scientific evidence that shows prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing serious illnesses, including various types of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Taking short walking breaks every 30 minutes improves worker productivity and decreases the likelihood of developing these maladies.

Promoting mental resilience

It’s no secret that lifelong learning increases overall health and longevity. To promote mental resilience, try to remain curious about life and become a lifelong learner. Science shows that life-long learning positively affects overall well-being. Mental resilience also assists in recovery from mental health difficulties and helps us cope with stress more effectively.

Promoting emotional resilience

How do you look at life? Is the glass half full or half empty? A growing body of research suggests that having a positive outlook on life can benefit your physical health. Experts believe that people who are emotionally healthy experience fewer negative emotions and are able to bounce back from difficulties faster. In other words, they are more resilient. Developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life—and focusing on what’s important to you—also contributes to emotional resilience. Positive emotions are linked to better health by making people feel more socially connected (see below).

Promoting social resilience

It’s been well documented that people who have a strong social support network typically recover from illness more quickly and effectively. Social connectedness provides an important link to less stress and better health. To promote social resilience, spend more time with family and friends. Surround yourself with positive, healthy people.

Building social resilience can be as simple as ABCDE:1

Attend. Pay attention to each other with genuine interest.

Being there. Be present and responsive to one another.

Caring. Care for one another and accept how things look from the other person’s side.

Don’t interrupt. Accept all the other has to offer.

Encourage. Encourage each other, sharing mutual respect and mutual value.

And finally, put your unique stamp on life. Do what you love every day, even for a short while. Why? Incorporating everyday creativity in our lives slows cognitive decline through the aging process.

Resilience—a welcome addition to our health and wellness toolkit

There’s no magic bullet to remove the stress in our lives (and that includes the workplace). However, developing greater resiliency to bounce back from challenges and setbacks can serve employees well in an increasingly stressful work world. Companies will benefit by having a more resilient workforce, especially when facing cutbacks, reorganizations or other stress-laden changes in the workplace.

In short, promoting an organizational culture that encourages and supports resilience training makes good business sense—and results in happier, healthier and more productive employees.


  1. “Build Your Social Resilience,” Psychology Today, March 6, 2010.


  • McGonigal, Jane, PhD, SuperBetter, Social media-based video game designed to increase personal resilience, accomplish goals and excel.
  • Ong, Anthony D. Bergeman, C. S. and Bisconti, Toni L. Psychological Resilience, Positive Emotions, and Successful Adaptation to Stress in Later Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2006, Vol. 91, No. 4, 730–749.
  • Seligman, M., Schulman, P. and DeRubeis, R. J. The Prevention of Depression and Anxiety, Prevention & Treatment, Volume 2, Article 8, posted December 21, 1999.
  • Siegel, Ronald D. and Allison, Steven M. Positive psychology: harnessing the power of happiness, mindfulness, and personal strength. Harvard Health Publications (2013).

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Pauline Krutilla - EAP Director, Advocate Aurora Employee Assistance Program
Pauline Krutilla is the Director of Advocate Aurora Health Care’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). She holds a Master of Science degree in guidance and counseling with an emphasis in alcohol and other drug treatments from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Pauline is certified by the State of Wisconsin as an Advanced Practice Social Worker and also is a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP).

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