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Seven factors to boost your mental resiliency

The basic premise of the term "survival of the fittest," coined by English philosopher Herbert Spencer, is that those species in nature that can adapt to their environment increase their ability to reproduce and continue to exist.

In the case of human beings, our path to the top of the food chain was made possible by our ability to think, not our physical dominance. We have evolved to be able to outthink the rest of the animal kingdom.

Most of us know what would happen if we picked a fight with a lion or a bear with our bare hands, but we don't worry about fighting lions and bears every day. The big threats for many Canadians are pressure and challenges to adapt and manage the demands of work and home, along with the associated stressors.

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How effectively an individual is able to cope with those challenges defines their level of success, health and happiness. We have learned from The Globe and Mail's Your Life at Work Survey that many Canadians are stressed and struggling to cope, and the ones who report higher coping skills, on average, are healthier and happier.

One skill that can help a person cope better with life stressors is resiliency. The Latin translation for resilience is "to jump back." Resiliency can be defined as an individual's ability to adapt to their daily challenges that arise from difficult situations, or to bounce back.

Several factors play a role in defining your ability to be resilient. To deal with the demands of life and stress, the more in tune you become in each of the following factors can provide guidance on what you need to explore and learn.

Personal strengths

This refers to the degree and confidence you have in personal strengths such as creativity, persistence, social intelligence and humility. It's a useful exercise to measure and evaluate your personal strengths that shape your character.

Hardiness

This refers to attributes you have developed to remain healthy under stress. The three key pieces that predict your hardiness are commitment (your dedication to achieving success), control (acceptance of what you can and cannot control) and challenge (your motivation and how much you enjoy a challenge).

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Self-directed

This refers to your ability to be self-disciplined, a self-starter and organized.

Attitude

This refers to how you generally look at the world, either positively or negatively. Some researchers have found one key element for evolving your resiliency is optimism.

Adaptability

This refers to your ability to be flexible and deal with change.

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Personal ethics

This refers to the boundaries you set for yourself, your personal code of ethics of what you will and will not do.

Problem solving and decision making

This refers to how effective you are at breaking down a problem, understanding the root cause, the different options available, the risks associated with each decision and the ability to make sound decisions using good judgment.

Resiliency training gives employees the opportunity to learn new skills that help them manage the challenges that come their way, and that can help improve their mental health by reducing their stress.

Employers can take proactive actions to help employees build their resiliency. The notion being, the better employees are coping, the more likely they will be healthy, engaged and productive. Employers can:

1. Educate employees about resiliency and how the above seven micro behaviours can help promote mental health, as well as how resiliency can be improved through training.

2. Provide employees an opportunity to learn how to positively influence their thinking. Teaching proven concepts used in cognitive behavioural therapy such as Albert Ellis' A-B-C theory can teach employees

a set of skills that help them turn their negative thoughts into more positive ones.

His theory also can help a person learn how to dispute their negative internal thoughts and reframe their thinking from negative to positive.

3. Make a commitment to remove toxic stressors and workplace hazards (such as bullying). Stay on top of this initiative by using micro survey pulse checks – short surveys that help employers find out how their staff are feeling at any given time. These surveys provide a feedback loop of employees' current stress level and its root causes. This kind of action promotes a learning culture that can help both employees and their organization develop resiliency.

Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is chief research and development officer, work force productivity, at Morneau Shepell.

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