Bouncing Back; From Stress To Joy –
Learning Resilience Through Changing Times
By Rozina Lakhani, MD, MPH
*This is an article from the Spring 2021 issue of Contentment Magazine.
Have you been feeling a lot more anxious, worried, and stressed than usual with the COVID Pandemic? If so, you are not alone.
A recent study found that nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life. And, 2 in 3 adults (67%) say they have experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic.1
With the changes that we have to make to adapt to the ‘new normal’ way of living, there is no doubt that we have experienced stress in some way. However, it is essential to note that not everyone copes with stress in the same way. It is vital that you learn how to manage your stress before it manages you and takes a serious toll on your emotional, social, physical, and mental health.
Would you like to learn some of the most powerful tools to build your resilience and thrive through these challenging times? Then read on for tools to go from Stress to Joy.
What is stress?
The World Health Organization defines stress as “the reaction people may have when presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.”2 So, stress is a reaction, not an illness. However, prolonged stress has severe implications on our health. Both physical and mental.
What is stress resilience?
Stress resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. (The American Psychological Association definition)3
Over my 20 years of psychiatric practice, I have found that one of the primary causes of most mental illnesses is stress. Many people come for treatment when stress has already developed into an illness such as depression or anxiety. It hurts my heart when they tell me that they have been suffering for a long time but didn’t seek help until the stress changed into illness that has affected their functioning drastically. That suffering could be avoided!
Seeing that suffering gives me the passion to share the effective and practical tools in my various programs. I developed my Stress to Joy4 program specifically to offer tools for effective stress management. In this article, I’d like to share an abbreviated formula of the program.
Stress To Joy Formula: CPR
CPR is an easy way to remember three steps you can take in any stressful situation.
CALM: The first step in dealing with any stressful situation is to calm down your mind and body. Calming your mind will allow you to process what is going on and respond wisely and mindfully.
One powerful way to calm the mind is through mindfulness and meditation. Whenever we face a particular threat, our body automatically generates a stress reaction called the “fight or flight” response. This reaction is due to the stimulation of our sympathetic nervous system. Continuous stimulation of this system without a break is what causes the damage from stress.
The effect of mindfulness and meditation on the body is the exact opposite. Meditation triggers your body’s parasympathetic system. It acts as a break for the sympathetic nervous system. It leads to a relaxation response, which brings you back into a calm state. It helps your body restore itself and prevent the possible damage from sustained stress.
You may think that mindfulness and meditation are only spiritual practices, but did you know that these practices have been extensively researched for their health benefits? You might not know how to get started, but there are many resources, especially apps, out there to guide you and make it easier. Describing it here is beyond the scope of this article, but I have shared a blog/video below in the references that may answer some of your questions and give you practical tools to get started.5
PROCESS: Once your mind calms, it can process or think through the situation. When you train your mind to choose to change your hurtful thoughts to helpful ones deliberately, you feel less stress. One of the most powerful mind-training concepts that helps me, and my patients is the Circle of Power. I have derived it from Stephen Covey’s book: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.2,6 He refers to the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.
Consider that everything you really care about is in a big circle: your Circle of Concern. It includes things concerning you. For example, what is happening in the world, what is happening politically, what is happening around you – at work, in school, or at home.
There is a smaller circle within this big circle: your Circle of Influence. This circle includes the things within your influence or control – your words, thoughts, attitude, and actions.
In the space outside your circle of influence, but still inside your circle of concerns, are the things that you really can’t do anything about to change. For example, how other people think and behave.
The most important thing to note is that the more you focus on factors outside your inner circle, the smaller your circle of influence gets. And the more you focus on inside your circle, the bigger your Circle of Influence gets. That is why one of my patients called it the circle of power, and I adopted the term.
Now, how is this concept related to stress resilience? People usually spend a lot of their time and energy worrying about the things they cannot control, which causes them to feel stressed. Do you?
Whenever you get a thought that stresses you, ask yourself:
Is this thought inside my circle of power?
If yes, focus and act on it. It will increase your influence and joy.
If no, ask, is there any aspect of this issue that I can do something about? (e.g., following health guidelines to prevent COVID) then choose to act on that.
If no aspect of this issue is in your influence, then ask, “Is my reaction/anger/frustration helping me or hurting me?”
If your reaction is only hurting you, then decide, “I choose to shift my focus to issues inside my circle of power. It will expand your circle of influence.”
This process will give you authority over your stressful situations and help you shift from a victim to a victor role.
RESPOND: The third and last step is to respond with wisdom. This is the action part of your mental decision. Once you have the right mindset, you can respond with positive action.
Don’t stop at the thought level. Take action, no matter how small. Each small step will empower you. It will give you energy and move you in the right direction. Follow your decision and take action. Then reassess and follow the steps. With each cycle of following the three CPR steps, you will minimize your stress and maximize your joy.
When to Seek Professional Help?
You will often be able to handle the stress yourself. But sometimes, you may need help and there is no shame in that. Many self-help tools from the American Institute of Stress and many passionate professionals are available to you. If you continue to experience symptoms, please seek professional help.
- American Psychological Association. (2020). Stress in AmericaTM 2020 A National Mental Health Crisis. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/sia-mental-health-crisis.pdf
- Building your resilience. (2012). American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
- Lakhani, R. (2018). Stress to Joy; Your toolkit to restore peace of mind in minutes. Bridge Books;
Also available in these formats: Lakhani, R. (2018). Stress to Joy; Guided Gratitude Journal. Bridge Books https://www.stresstojoy.com/gratitudejournal and
Lakhani, R. (2019). Transforming Stress to Joy Online Course. American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/transforming-stress-to-joy
- Lakhani, R. (2020, April 21) How to Practice Mindfulness for Stress Management; Three Essential Components for Calm, Focus and Joy. Happy and healthy Mind.
- Stephen R. Covey Jan The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon and Schuster