Resilience is the ability to bounce back when a stressful event occurs. We all have stressful events in our lives and we all have setbacks. The ability to “hang tough” through adversity is very valuable and have many benefits including decreasing the effects of stress on the mind and body and increasing the ability to be productive and meet one’s goals.

There are many factors that determine one’s ability to be resilient. Biology plays a role in that certain traits that affect resiliency, like a calmer temperament, are inherited. Other factors that affect resilience are environmental factors, such as the quality of neighborhood schools or climate.  However, recent research shows that we can increase resilience, or the ability to cope well with stress, through several methods:

Changing maladaptive negative emotions can increase resilience. Negative emotions can be changed through:

reappraisal also known as cognitive restructuring involves changing negative thoughts about an event. Example- instead of thinking that not being hired for a job was due to personal failing but thinking  instead that the job market is tight and this experience provided good interview experience.

mindfulness which is a meditation practice where the person practices focusing on the present rather than dwelling on the past or anxiously anticipating the future.

Both reappraisal and mindfulness have been shown through brain scans to activate areas associated with increased emotional control, more positive emotions and quicker recovery from negative emotions, such as fear and anger.

Increasing the experience of positive emotions can increase resilience. Positive emotions include happiness, peace, comfort, joy, inspiration, etc. Bringing more positive emotions and experiences into our daily lives can be very uplifting. Too often seeking positive experiences and emotions is put off as a future endeavor.  To achieve a high sense of well-being, we need to experience positive emotions daily.  Positive emotions can be experienced when we engage in pleasurable activities such as listening to music, socializing and traveling.

Exercise increases resilience by reducing the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression by changing brain chemistry. It also increases the ability to manage stress by increasing the ability to make decisions, and improving memory, attention and planning.
Accepting challenge and increasing them over time can help build resilience. For instance, a person who is fearful of public speaking may attend toastmasters (a public speaking organization), then give a speech to small and then larger groups of people. The same process of increasing the challenge over time can be applied to a variety of behavioral challenges.
Seeking social support builds resilience through the simultaneous boost provided in self-confidence, the experience of having a safety-net if things don’t go well, the increase in active rather than passive problem-solving and the knowledge one is not alone. When we are emotionally connected to others, oxytocin, a hormone, is released. Oxytocin promotes bonding behaviors and reduces anxiety and fear.
Imitating a resilient role model fosters resilience.  The task here is to look for people who recover from stress quickly and effectively,  analyze what they do, and then do it yourself.  These could be people in your circle of friends, family, coworkers or even historical figures.
Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist