Written by: Cally Worden
How do those people who seem energised by stress do it? They zip about like hyperactive pinballs and seem to thrive when the dial is turned up and the pressure increases. Wears me out just thinking about it. Stress is a part of life for us all and a landmark study back in the 1980s revealed how the effects of it can be dramatically different on one person to the next. It also offered suggestions as to why some people thrive and others weaken under its effects. Interesting stuff!
The AT&T Study
When the telecoms market was deregulated in 1975 in the US, the company AT&T who until then had enjoyed a monopoly market, had to shed staff. The biggest impact came in 1981 when 50% of the company’s employees were made redundant. The study, conducted by Professor Maddi of UC Irvine, followed the fortunes of these poor souls. Two thirds fared badly, suffering from illness, life issues such as divorce and mental health problems. The remaining one third, however, seemed to thrive.
What Makes Those who Thrive Different?
Maddi was inspired by this finding to seek the reason behind the difference, and he soon identified a trend. In those employees who thrived on the stress of redundancy Maddi noted a trait that he labelled ‘Hardiness’. By this he meant that individuals possessing this trait had the motivation and ability to see crisis events as an opportunity. He worked back this trait to three basic attributes that are found in hardy people:
- Commitment – hardy individuals view the task at hand as sufficiently important to warrant their undivided and complete attention. These people are goal-orientated, and stick with a task even when the situation appears to deteriorate.
- Control – those who thrive on stress hold a conviction that they retain a degree of influence on an outcome. In essence, they believe that they can make a difference, and refuse to give up and assume a passive role.
- Challenge – it is through an acceptance that life is filled with challenges that hardy individuals become free from the expectation of a perfect life. As a result they are better equipped both mentally and emotionally to cope with problems when they arise. It’s not that they expect bad things to happen, rather that they possess an innate understanding and acceptance of the fact that they can, and often do.
Can Anyone Aspire to these Traits?
Yes. Maddi is clear to emphasise that through positive thinking and a willingness to place yourself outside of your comfort zone, your confidence will develop to an extent that promotes inner hardiness. Survival in stressful situations means taking hold of the problem by the scruff of the neck and shaking it about until you have it under control. This takes courage, confidence, and a high degree of self-belief. These are all personal characteristics that can be nurtured and developed.
Start now when the going is good and the test will come when you are next faced with an inevitable challenge of some form in your life. If we can all harness stress in this way and make it work for us then it may become less of a burden. Got to be worth a try – what do you think?