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What Is Resilience?

Resilience is your ability to bounce back from adversity and trauma. This quality is the key to being able to handle what life throws at you. Resilient people are better able to manage stress, deal with challenges, and carry on even when the obstacles seem insurmountable.

There will always be challenges in life, some harder than others. How you approach obstacles can often mean the difference between dusting yourself off and carrying or being crushed by them.

Some people seem to come by this ability quite naturally. They are able to remain optimistic and calm in the face of almost anything that life sends their way. For those who feel a bit more vulnerable to stress, there’s good news—research has found that resilience is a skill you can learn and strengthen.

By nurturing your resilience, these powerful tactics can help you become stronger, calmer, and more adaptable during even the toughest of times.

Resilience Helps You Cope With Stress

Stress is an all-too-common occurrence for many. According to one survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 25 percent of American adults reported experiencing high levels of stress. Another 50 percent reported having moderate stress levels.

Why is this so significant? It’s because stress is not just unpleasant, it can have serious effect on both your physical and mental health. Being resilient means that you’ll be better able to cope with stress and reduce its harmful effects.

The Fight-or-Flight Response

Whenever you face stress, whether it’s the minor hassles of daily life or a major crisis that might transform your life, your brain and body go through a series of changes designed to prepare for a response. This reaction, known as the fight-or-flight response, is designed to make both your mind and body ready for a quick response, whether it involves fleeing from danger or standing your ground to fight back.

It is a small structure in the brain known as the amygdala, an area that plays a role in emotional processing, that then sends a signal to the brain’s so-called “command center.” The hypothalamus then triggers responses in both the sympathetic and autonomic nervous systems.

This triggers the release of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline to flood through the body. Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration quicken. Pupils dilate and your body may tremble as your muscles become primed for action. Both your brain and body are ready to deliver a quick reaction in response to the danger, whether this threat is real or imagined.

This fight-or-flight response plays an important role in preparing your body to deal with stressful events. Because you are so prepared to react, you can respond quickly and efficiently, protecting yourself from the dangers that you might face. But this natural response can also lead to problems.

When stress is prolonged, your immune system can become weakened, leaving you more susceptible to illness. Chronic stress can also lead to other health problems, both physical and psychological.

Stress Takes a Toll On the Brain

But stress can also have a major impact on a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is responsible for executive functions such as emotional regulation, attention, problem-solving, abstract thought, and planning. Researchers have discovered that sometimes in the face of stress, this part of the brain tends to shut down.

This can actually be a good thing at times. When a looming threat requires a quick response, it is often better to react quickly before you have time to contemplate and overthink the situation.

But if your mind has ever gone utterly blank before an important test, presentation, or speech, you know that this part of the stress response is not always so helpful. And sometimes overwhelming stress can cause you just to shut down or give up completely.

So what does this all have to do with resilience? Essentially, resilient people are able to activate the prefrontal cortex and calm areas of the brain that are sending out distress signals.

Fortunately, research has shown that there are things that you can do to effectively reword your brain. Your response to stress is shaped by experience, so exposing your brain to new experiences can help reshape the ways that you instinctively react to stressful situations.

How to Increase Your Resilience

Building your resilience takes time, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Research suggests that more resilient people are better equipped to deal with all kinds of stress and that people to manage day-to-day stresses are also more capable of managing more traumatic events.

Here’s how to do it:

Build Your Social Support System

Research has overwhelmingly demonstrated the health significance of social connections. Social support has been linked to higher levels of happiness and even to living a longer life. But these relationships also have another important role – they can help you better manage stress and increase your resilience.

Reliable, trustworthy friends and family provide companionship, support, and care. Self-reliance and independence can be great qualities, but resilience requires high-quality, supportive relationships.

Stay In Tune With Your Emotions

Resilience is sometimes confused with stoicism, but emotions actually play a critical role in managing stress. Emotional understanding is a key factor in resilience.

Pay attention to your feelings and try to really understand why your feeling them. Not only will you find that you are better able to react when you truly understand how you’re feeling, you will also find that you better understand how others are feeling.

Cultivate Optimism and Positive Emotions

Resilient people tend to be more optimistic about life. They also often view challenges as opportunities for growth. Research has found that people who tend to frame experience through the lens of more positive emotions also tend to experience greater resilience to stress.

Learn How to Reframe

Reframing, or the ability to view experiences and situations in a more positive way, has also been found to increase resilience. When something stressful or unfortunate happens, resilient people will reframe by turning away from negative thoughts and redirecting their focus toward any positive outcomes that might come out of a situation.

When faced with job loss, for example, a person might reframe the situation by focusing on new career opportunities that might lead to greater personal growth.

Look for Resilient Role Models

Observation plays a critical role in learning, so paying attention to the resilient people in your life can help boost your own ability to cope with adversity. Think about different challenges that people you know have faced and consider their reactions.

Develop a Growth Mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck has suggested that having a growth mindset, or believing that success is under personal control, can help improve motivation and achievement. Children who believe that intelligence is something that can be developed (a growth mindset) are less likely to give up in the face of obstacles.

Final Thoughts

Resilience is an important psychological quality that can play a key role in how well you manage stress and recover from trauma. Some people seem to come by this quality naturally, but it is also a skill that you can develop and strengthen. It may take time, but practicing a few key habits can help you become a more resilient person.