Mental robustness wards off woes
Being mentally robust can help against illnesses and decrease absences from work.
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This was revealed by a study of army employees and students conducted at the University of Bergen (UiB).
According to the study, students who are worried about the impact of their grades on future academic or career-related goals report having more health problems – but mental tenacity can have a positive effect.
In the first half of the study the researcher appraised 213 psychology students for mental toughness, somatic and psychological health problems and academic stress.
“We found that those who scored highest on mental hardiness reported fewer ailments when they were stressed compared to those who were less tough. Hardiness functions like a kind of shock absorber,” says Sigurd W. Hystad.
Hystad recently presented his doctoral thesis Measuring Psychological Resiliency.
How to handle stress?
Hystad found that some persons tackle stress better than others and your mental robustness can be the psychological shock absorber that makes the difference.
"Mental hardiness is the way you interpret what we can call stressful incidents. If you view them as something frightening they’ll probably have a negative influence on you. But if you perceive stressful incidents as challenges you can control to a certain extent, if you involve yourself enough, stress can be a motivational factor,” Hystad explains.
The concept of mental hardiness is comprised of three personal attributes, according to Hystad.
The first attribute is the feeling of having control, which means we feel capable of affecting the outcome of what happens with us.
The second is whether we view new and unfamiliar experiences as a challenge and an opportunity to learn, rather than something to be avoided.
The third attribute is commitment, in other words the degree in which we take part and involve ourselves to achieve what we want.
Students with a high scoring of hardiness have a tendency to look at new experiences as challenging and exciting, according to Hystad.
The study shows that a good portion of self-confidence when encountering challenges appears to protect students against many of the unhealthy consequences of stress.
Less absences due to sickness
The second half of Hystad’s study looked at positive effects of high mental hardiness among military personnel and civilians employed by the Norwegian Defence, and more specifically, the relationship between such hardiness and absences due to illness.
Upwards of 7,000 respondents were first measured for mental hardiness and then most of their sick leave history was provided by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, NAV.
“Those who scored high in mental hardiness were less likely to take sick leaves,” says Hystad.
Hystad and his colleagues gauged the participants’ mental hardiness through the use of a questionnaire with 15 statements, of which they were asked to grade the extent of their agreement or disagreement.
The form they filled out is called the Dispositional Resilience Scale and it is used world wide. Hystad took part in the design of the Norwegian version of the questionnaire.
The Norwegian version includes statements like ‘I feel that my life is rather meaningless’ and ‘When I make plans I’m certain that I can realise them’.
Mental hardiness can be cultivated
Of course stress factors are also fixtures of people’s everyday life outside of universities and the military, and everyone can benefit from the shock absorber that can be attained from a high degree of mental hardiness.
So Hystad brings good news when he says that perhaps we can train ourselves to be mentally tougher.
“There is some research that shows it is possible, but it isn’t robust enough to say for sure that hardiness is something we can bolster by training ourselves. This merits some future research,” he concludes.
Sigurd W. Hystad et. al., Psychometric properties and predictive value of the new Norwegian personality hardiness measure, doctoral thesis, The Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, 2011
Read this article in Norwegian at forskning.no
Translated by: Glenn Ostling