There is a lot of talk of resilience these days. It has become quite a buzz-word, and this article is an attempt at giving an overview of what is meant by the term resilience and what we can do to strengthen it.
There are different definitions of resilience and different ways of approaching it. Some people think of it only as the capacity to bounce back from adversity and hardship, whereas others see it as being both about our ability to bounce back, but also our ability to manage stress, challenges and adversity effectively.
I personally find this fuller definition much more logical, as surely our ability to manage smaller stresses and challenges effectively will determine how we respond to major stressors and adversity. By practising conscious stress-management in everyday life and learning to cope well with changes and daily pressures, we equip ourselves for dealing with the major disruptions, losses, and challenges that will happen at some point in most of our lives.
Research shows that our level of resilience is affected by both genetics and our upbringing. However, even if our genes and childhood were not favourable for building up strong levels of resilience that doesn't mean that we cannot change how resilient we are today; there are many ways in which we can equip ourselves for dealing better with stress, adversity and unexpected change. Some of these are very practical and focus on making lifestyle changes, such as changing our diet, cutting down on alcohol and caffeine, making sure we get enough sleep, limiting screen-time and use of technology, and getting more exercise. In fact, research has shown that having a healthy life-style means that our cells are not as adversely affected by stress in the way they are when our life-styles are not healthy and balanced. (From The Resilience Summit Day 1 with Rick Hanson and Elissa Epel)
Other changes we can make are more to do with our inner life and focus on creating practices that promote positive feelings and thinking patterns and strengthening the neural pathways in the brain connected with these. Some of the keywords often used in this context are gratitude, generosity, self-compassion and mindfulness. While these practices are more to do with our inner world and how we think and feel about ourselves and life, there is a lot of research that is focusing on the benefits of bringing these practices into the body. This not only helps to ground the feelings and strengthen the changes in the neural pathways connected to these, it also strengthens bodily awareness and intelligence (also called somatic or kinaesthetic intelligence).
“...the health of your mind is profoundly linked to that of your body. Knowing this you can make healthier choices in your life about what to eat, when to sleep and how to behave. When you appreciate the power of the body in changing the mind you function better. Exercise and body-centered meditation, awareness, and learning practices that coach the body as well as the mind can help you achieve this mind-body connection.”
Sian Beilock: How the Body Knows its Mind.