Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Feeling stressed? Try Faith, Hope and Charity

I attended an interesting training course the other day on stress management. As well as looking at reducing the pressures we work under, we were encouraged to increase our resilience - which was defined as our ability to cope with pressure without a stress response.

The first thing discussed was the obvious need to look after oneself physically (diet, exercise, rest, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake etc.) when the pressure is on.

But then we discussed the research on what was called 'positive affect'- a sort of emotional and cognitive optimism.

It struck me that most of the evidence supported the three theological virtues.

Faith was highlighted by the need to find meaning - to have something to believe in. Viktor Frankl was cited, the Austrian therapist who lived through the Nazi concentration camps and wrote Man's Search for Meaning, to explain how some people managed to hold onto their humanity in the midst of the brutalising regime. Other examples were cited (Clarence Adoo, for example, a world class trumpeter who was paralysed from the head down in a car accident, and attributes his positivity to his faith as a Salvationist).

Hope was the leitmotif of the day: a well-founded optimism seems very important. One interesting study looked at nuns, who on entering their convent some 50 years ago, had written a letter to explain why they wanted to be nuns. All had Faith, of course, but some letters were highlighted as having lots of 'positive affect indicators' which I heard as hope-filled; whilst others were more negative on that scale (young women focusing on atonement for past - or others' - wrongs). The study said there was a clear co-relation between the hope-filled letters and a nun's long-term health and longevity - decades later.

Charity was also important: again and again the research evidence showed that people who maintained good relationships with others, who went out of their way to perform acts of gratuitous kindness, who thought well of others and so on were more resilient under pressure. Those who withdraw into themselves are less so.

Clearly, from a Catholic point of view, there is much more that could be said (and in terms of the nuns' study, I am also aware of the saintly nuns who have seen their vocation as a vocation to suffer). Nonetheless, I was interested how the secular research did seem to coalesce around these three virtues, as well as a prudential view of physical well-being.


Ttony said...

Can you remember whose programme this is? It might be useful if lots of us in organisations who run exactly this sort of management programme ask for this one.

Ben Trovato said...

Yes, Ttony - in fact that was the reason I was there: it was run by Andrew Plasom-Scott: the chap who does the book reviews over at

So perhaps not surprising that the theological overtones were not far below the surface (to mix my metaphors most horrendously!)

He has a business www site at, and blogs at

Tell him I sent you!

berenike said...

Faith hope and charity are the theological virtues. The cardinal virtues are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice (These Four Please Jesus :D )

sorry, couldnae resist.

Ben Trovato said...


Of course you are quite right! Can't think how I made such a blunder: must have been more stressed than I realised...

Have corrected it.