Why do some people thrive on chaos and uncertainty, while others are driven to anxiety and depression?
The world is a stressful place. No more so than in times of social, political, and economic change. In such an environment, resilience can make the difference between a long, healthy, happy life and a short life marked with illness, disease, and despair.
But what is resilience? How does it work, how is it built, and why do only some of us possess it?
Put simply, resilience is the capacity to rebound – even grow from – stress.
Stress causes very specific responses in the brain and body. These can range from a mild “challenge” response (racing heart, flushed cheeks, sweaty palms) to the classic freeze, flight or fight response.
Some of this is innate, or inborn. When placed in stressful conditions, some people’s brains are predisposed to releasing panic-soothing neurochemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin – which control the actions of “stress hormones” adrenaline and cortisol.
But a good amount of this is also trainable. The training of Navy SEALS, Olympic athletes and elite dancers and performers is as much psychological as it is physical. Without the right mindset and the ability to control their fear and anxiety under pressure, they could not hope to function at the levels required of them.
You might suppose that these tough, unflappable people aren’t affected by stress symptoms. You may think that they remain calm through seemingly anything. But research shows that these hyper-resilient people experience the same symptoms you do. They just notice, interpret, and use that information differently.
So what can do you do to cultivate practical resilience in yourself?
You may not have access to (or even want!) an Olympic coach or drill-sergeant, shouting you through your daily life and choices. But it turns out that – armed with the right tools and mindset – you can do a great deal to build resilience all by yourself. Here are three things to help:
1. Be aware of your stress response.
You can learn to understand your stress response and what it is trying to do. However misguided and over-reactive, your brain and body are responding to a perceived threat or challenge, and attempting to help you deal with it. Often, we mistake the early symptoms of stress (racing heart, quickened breath) as the inexorable onset of panic.
If you can spot the signals early enough, you can actually redirect stress symptoms to your advantage – using them as an impetus to move and act, rather than resist, avoid, or hide from the problem.
2. Use simple techniques.
You can learn simple techniques for gaining mastery over your stress physiology. Yoga and mediation can be helpful in this regard. But if you don’t have the time or inclination, faster, simpler methods are available.
3. Build healthy habits.
You can alter your daily habits to minimize meaningless stressors, while also tackling meaningful challenges head-on.
Over time, these efforts will lead to a profound shift in mindset, and an ever-increasing capacity for coping – even growing from – daily stress.
It’s a stressful world, and that stress isn’t going away any time soon.
So ask yourself: what’s your plan for dealing with it?
Is it hide from the worst, cope with the rest?
Or is it be prepared, wade in, and thrive in the face of it all?
The choice is yours.