How Navy SEALS Build Immunity to Stress

Last Updated May 11, 2011 11:48 AM EDT

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

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 these steps in your program.

  1. Allow people to experience success by assigning them to work with successful teams.
  2. Create an environment of safety and encouragement, coupled with mentoring and training.
  3. Promote "self-efficacy" -- belief that we are agents of change, which is earned through personal accomplishment in the face of a challenge.
Read a deeper account of the conference on the Harvard Medical School Focus website.

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(Photo by Flickr user Rennett Stowe, CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.