Stress, Psychological Resilience And Vitality

stressed woman at work

Resilience can be defined by our capacity to remain responsive in the face of personal and professional setbacks. We all face these. 

A rejection for a job you really wanted, a project that doesn’t work out as expected, or being criticised by people whose opinions you value. It may be the loss of a loved one; a colleague or manager you loved working with leaves for another organisation; your own or another’s poor health, all of these are part of life. How we respond to these setbacks relates to our resilience.

What assists in building resilience? 

The people close to you is one important element. What does close mean? Closeness is the emotional or psychological importance of a relationship. This is both with your allies and those who are not. Being stressed or overloaded at work can result in you not taking care of yourself by choosing work over being with friends and family and doing the things that sustain you.

Each of us has a Social Atom – a network of important relationships.

Each individual is born into a social network, a network of relationships. At a time when Rutherford was defining the atom in chemical life, Jacob Moreno defined the social atom as the smallest unit of society each of us has. 

Moreno proposed that the social atom consists of emotionally significant people and their relationships with the individual for him or her to be in emotional equilibrium. 

Our original social atom consists of family members or carers. These people and their role relationships form patterns of behaviour. Moreno termed the interactions from the behaviours and counter behaviours, the cultural atom. We grow and develop as a result of experiences and interactions with those around us. We learn new behaviours in response to our experiences, and from new people entering and leaving our social atom.

One implication of our social atom is that as we, or others important to us, move to a new organisation or new roles within the organisation, our role relationships shift and our social atom alters. 

This affects our emotional equilibrium. 

Our focus becomes responding to the loss rather than concentrating on the vitality and productivity that the relationship enhanced. Restructures in organisations tear the fabric of an individual’s social atoms and research shows that role relationships are re-enacted and behavioural patterns persist, particularly under stressful conditions.

What are some signs of low resilience in the face of organisation change or setbacks? One is feeling exhausted or a bit run down. Another sign might be that your defensive behaviours are to the fore. 

Some examples of defensive behaviours are:

  • Walking away, escaping, going silent
  • Justifying, making excuses, over-explaining
  • Acquiescing
  • Blaming, condemning, or being judgmental
  • Using derision, sarcasm, or cynicism

How is your psychological resilience? 

What are the criteria your relationships are established on? Click here to map your current professional social atom with some of the relationship criteria for resilience.

Ideally, each of us should have several people in both our professional social atom and our personal social atom. 

We would interact with them on these criteria (for example):

  • I can confide almost anything with…?
  • …helps me see the funny side of things?
  • …would drop what they were doing for me when I needed help?
  • I would drop what I was doing to listen to…?
  • I greatly appreciate being confided in by…
  • It would be hard for me to be motivated in my work without…

Have a look at your network of relationships on these criteria. What patterns do you notice? Who might you re-activate or develop a relationship with to strengthen your resilience?

Talk with Diana to strengthen your resilience and vitality in responding to organisational change.

References on resilience:

Ann E Hale, Conducting Clinical Sociometric Explorations 1985 p 168

Martin Seligman

American Psychological Association

© Diana Jones

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