I’ve seen these words used in science lectures AND in the community work I’ve done. I think they both carry the same impact as verbs, but the context in which they are used may be different. You see, I really don’t think we’re any different from plants. The behaviors of plants are examples we can relate to in how we, as humans behave. Allow me to draw some parallels.
In the science world, plants are often referred to as sessile. Meaning, they are “planted” in one place for their entire lives. They aren’t mobile. So how do they follow nature’s law of growth, survival, and reproduction? They’ve adapted ways to do all of these things while being immobile. In the tropics you might see large green leaves with huge gaping holes in the middle. This is the plant’s adaptation to avoid water logging and breakage from heavy rain. Succulents have water filled, thick leaves to store water in their dry arid environments. When you examine seeds, different seeds have adapted different needs in order to germinate. One seed might need to freeze before it germinates, another might need fire to crack open it’s hard shell because those are common ecosystems in their environment. How does this relate to us humans and our behaviors?
If you think about our mind, or even better...our mindsets. It can often feel pretty sessile, or stuck in one place or state of mind, right?
We create our belief systems, we are influenced by our life stories, our mindsets become those things and we hold onto them. But when the world around us starts changing our mindsets can often leave us feeling stuck. And the work of getting “unstuck” often means that we need to change something about our mindsets, or adapt to the situation.
Without getting caught up in thinking about the thousands of years it takes a plant species to create specific adaptations to its environment, this is similar to what we as humans do in order to survive our daily environments:
What do you do to avoid inclement weather?
How do manage being around negative family members?
What do you do when you have a difficult boss?
All of these are stressors in our environment that we can’t immediately run away from so we end up having to figure out how to live with them or resolve our position in them. We adapt.
Now, I’m going to get real “Ecologist” on you now and go back to that word I introduced to this parallel: STRESSORS. In Ecology all of these adaptations are actually a result of those plants having environmental stressors imposed on them. In plants, over a long period of time, if the plant species goes through the same stressors, an adaptation is born. For them, it’s a matter of survival for many generations to come. For us, I personally think the same thing is happening to us, we just can’t see those specific adaptations fully because we haven’t had the same stressors for thousands of years. In comparison, colonization began only several hundreds of years ago.
I want to emphasize now, that there are different perspectives we can address to the word STRESS.
The most common perspective is a very negative perspective that we all feel. It’s the accumulative effects of social pressures, racism, challenges in relationships, difficult financial situations, all of that. We associate this with the bad stuff that is happening to us. The other perspective goes back to the ecological view of stress, which is more functional in nature.
Stress (or stressors) are actually those signs we have in life that something is happening and is calling us to adapt. Something is happening that needs some attention because a change is about to happen. And only then, when the stressors make themselves known is when we are called to do some work to figure out how to adapt.
And it’s our ABILITY to adapt that makes us RESILIENT beings. We can get through the challenges, we can learn how to manage the situation, we CAN adapt. But in order to reach resilience we must understand the FUNCTION of stress in our lives. I really hope you’re seeing how that works.
So, circling back I hope you’re able to see clear similarities between plant ecology and human behavior. It’s a lesson that’s helped me sit better with the stressful times in life, to remind myself of these two pretty powerful words that keep me grounded; resilience and adaptation. And please, do note that I acknowledge there is big difference between stress and trauma. I don't wish to diminish the impacts that trauma has in our lives that can be very tied to stress as well as systems in our society.
What other lessons have you taken from these two words? Please share your thoughts below or join in on the discussion with #resilience and #adaptation on our Instagram @hikeitoutcoaching