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Building stress resilience

I ran across a thought-provoking article a few weeks ago: “High-achieving women need more than a bubble bath.” By “high-achieving” women, the article means women who are accomplishment-focused and achievement-oriented— yes, that includes you, my fellow attorneys!

Actually, I found the article — as well as the book on which it was based — to be eerily accurate, as did a few friends of mine.

The article refreshingly recognized the traits of “high-achieving” women are much the same as those found in “high-achieving” men. The difference is in the assumptions that tend to underlie women’s thought processes. Assumptions such as “I have to prove myself to everyone,” “I can’t relax until I finish what I have to do,” and “I should be able to manage it all and accomplish it all without feeling stressed or tired.”

Now, I’m not sure that I would agree that these assumptions are uniquely held by women. I think the assumptions are fairly commonplace in the legal field where, as one article states, “My boss wants innovation as long as it’s done perfectly the first time.”

But I do agree the stress invoked by operating under these assumptions cannot be solved — at least not in the long-term — with bubble baths or vacations.

It makes sense that it isn’t as much about getting rid of the stress; it is about building “stress resilience.” Don’t try to make everything balance perfectly — it is more of a constant give and take, a juggling act, if you will.

For instance, there are many techniques to increase your ability to deal with stressful situations by getting to know yourself better and then use that knowledge to develop more effective interpersonal techniques, including developing the ability to stop and think about what assumptions you are automatically building into a situation to make it more stressful.

In addition to building your internal ability to deal with stress, stress resilience can be increased through external support. In that vein, the article encourages high-achievers to find like-minded others with whom to collaborate, seek out professional challenges, find a position that will provide flexibility and freedom to be themselves and work with people and in places where contributions will be recognized and where value to the organization/group will be affirmed.

(Dr. Marcia Reynolds, author of the book on which the article was based, also encourages high-achievers to seek support from their organizations.)

It’s worth thinking about — do you do anything to make your life more stressful than it needs to be? What can you do to change that? And what support can you build up — using the people and organizations around you — to increase your ability to effectively deal with those stressful situations?