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Re-framing for Resilience!

Let’s keep talking about one of my favorite topics – resilience! 

To refresh and catch you up: let’s remember that resilience is something we do. It is not something you are, but a skill you practice. Resilience is something we can all develop. A great foundation for resilience is self-care (exercise, nutrition and sleep) and an excellent strategy to build resilience is reaching out to friends and family, also known as social support. I promised we’d get into additional strategies for developing your resilience, based upon neuroscience research (Tabibnia & Radecki, 2018), so let’s do this!

Re-framing is a cognitive strategy that can help us change our perspective and help us cope more effectively with whatever stressors we might be facing. Re-framing is viewing our challenges not as obstacles we have to fight through, but as opportunities to learn something new, try something different or take an alternative path. Let’s go through an example for clarification.

Let’s say you are going about your work day and having a pretty okay day. Your boss instant messages you and says, “Fire drill! I need your help right now – a mistake was made and we need to fix it EOD today. I need all hands on deck.”

You immediately spring into action, set aside the project you were working on and jump in to help. In order to do this, your brain activated your stress response – hormones were released to help you focus your attention and give you the rush of energy you need to get the work done. This is a natural response to stress and it’s helpful!

Let’s take this further, and imagine that the next day you get another similar, urgent, request, perhaps from your boss or a co-worker. You set your work aside, jump in to help and you get an assist from your body’s stress response to do this. Over time, this stress response becomes your dominant response to these daily requests. The pathway in your brain for the stress response is activated any time you get an instant message with a request for help. Every day your brain is telling your body to release hormones to handle the stress. This turns into chronic stress, and it isn’t good for us over time as it causes wear and tear on our bodies. This may appear as digestive issues, back pain, headaches, even diabetes (Forcier, et al., 2006)!

 So what can you do and how does re-framing come into play? You can build your resilience to stressors like this by learning to think and respond differently. When you get that urgent request, rather than jumping into action, you can do some re-framing. Instead of viewing this urgent request as “drop everything and do this” you can start to view the situation differently – more calmly and thoughtfully. You can instead re-frame the event as “The request-of-the-day” and downplay the urgency this event in your mind, because something like this happens nearly every day! When you re-frame it as “The request-of-the-day” you will start to think about this situation differently, as something that happens daily, or nearly daily. When you start to think of this as a regular reoccurrence, you can plan for it and build time into your schedule to handle these events. Rather than packing your schedule full of meetings and planning projects so that you are working down to the wire, build half-hour “work sessions” into your calendar so you have designated time to handle the “request-of-the-day.” You can also build an extra half-day or day into your timeline for deliverables so you can flex your schedule to handle these requests.

This may seem too simple and you may be wondering how using different words to re-frame a stressor can help you with your resilience. However, re-framing is a technique that neuroscientists have found works (Tabibnia & Radecki, 2018)! When we re-frame events not as stressors but instead as events we can handle, we build new pathways in the brain that aren’t stress-based and we do not use that well-worn stress pathway. Over time we get better at using the new “calm, cool daily request” pathway and the “urgent request stress” pathway becomes less and less likely to be used. That means we feel less stressed and we become more resilient!

We can use re-framing to help us think about and respond differently to many events that occur in our lives. When I felt burned-out to the point of crispy a few years ago I left the career track I was racing along. At the time I worried, and so did a few of my friends and family, that I was experiencing a mid-life crisis. The phrase “mid-life crisis” does not exactly inspire thoughts of hope and awe! When a friend encouraged me to re-frame it instead as a “mid-life awakening” I found words that helped me think about this transitional period of my life with greater curiosity and hopefulness. Instead of looking at my career transition as a stressful, negative crisis, I could re-frame it as a new beginning where I could bring more of myself to my work.

Re-framing can be used for events big and small. Use it to think differently about your past and events that occur to you every day. How can I think differently about this event? How I can choose different words to describe this event, and how does that change my reaction and help me respond more constructively?


Forcier, K., Stroud, L. R., Papandonato, G. D., Hitsman, B., Reiches, M., Krishnamoorthy, J., & Niaura, R. (2006). Links between physical fitness and cardiovascular reactivity and recovery to psychological stressor: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology, 25(6), 723-739. https://doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.25.6.723

Tabibnia, G., & Radecki, D. (2018). Resilience training that can change the brain. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70(1), 59-88. doi: cpb0000110