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Learning to combat stress like a Navy Seal

I recently came across an interesting article on Navy Seals and how they deal with stress. Did you know that you can teach your brain how to be prepared for stressful situations? We should take a lesson from them.

Navy SEALS are not allowed a bad day at work, and they certainly can’t let stress degrade their performance.

It’s all in a day’s work

Stress reduction, or brain resiliency, can be learned, and you don’t have to be a member of an elite fighting force to do it, according to medical researchers who spoke at at a recent Harvard Medical School symposium on “Resiliency and Learning: Implications for Teaching Medical Students and Residents.”

George Everly, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has studied Navy SEALs and other groups that work under high stress. He said that people most likely to have developed an immunity to stress have a social support network, are optimistic, are persevering with a stout work ethic and value responsibility and integrity.

Resilience can be taught, said Everly, by incorporating a few steps. The most attributing is putting together a support system (support group).

The Resilient Psyche 

In the wake of war, natural disasters and severe abuse, 15 to 20 percent of those affected suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. By focusing on the rest, including Navy SEALs and other stress-hardy groups, Everly has identified distinct attributes. The best predictor of immunity to stress, he said, is a social support network. Optimism (including faith in a higher cause or power), perseverance (determining to make it through whatever), and responsibility and integrity.

As for why some people sink instead of swim, Everly emphasized two factors:

  1. A lack of perspective—stemming from inadequate preparation and tenacity

  2. A negative attitude.

Resilience can be taught, here’s how. First, let people experience success: Assign them to a successful group. Second, create a surveillance system and safety net, and provide encouragement, mentoring and training. Finally, mitigate the impact of stress by promoting “self-efficacy”—the belief that we are agents of change.

Read a deeper account of the conference on the Harvard Medical School Focus website.


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