Can we train ourselves to be resilient?



Zurich Livewell | Health Tips | March 13, 2024, Aneta Baraniak

When we face adversity, we tend to get stressed. If this stress persists for a long time, we begin to experience symptoms that make it difficult for us to function in everyday life. The rates at which we recover from this stress can vary from person to person. Those of us who can recover quicker tend to be less anxious and suffer less as a result.

What is resilience? 

Richard Davidson, leading neuroscientist and founder of the Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, defines resilience as “the rapidity with which you can recover from adversity”.

Soft skills such as active listening, communication, compassion, curiosity, and even critical thinking are essential for meeting the challenges of today's world. Building resilience is crucial to helping us cope with stress and reduce its impacts. Generally speaking, we all enhance our soft skills over time as we learn from personal experiences.

If we could teach soft skills, how might we learn how to recover quicker and strengthen our mental resilience?

 

Can we shape our brain to build resilience?

In Davidson’s lab, neuroscientists measure the rapidity of recovery by exploring (through MRI brain imaging) two key activities of the brain that deal with stress or adverse situations:

1. The level of cortisol released by the brain
2. The degree to which the amygdala is activated

In his research, Davidson looks at specific neurocircuits and measures the impacts of mindfulness and meditations on the brain’s ability to recover. The lab’s research shows that these brain circuits can be altered over time by regular practice in simple mindfulness and compassion meditations:

"In terms of the specific measure of recovery from a negative emotional stimulus, mindfulness practice shows the strongest relationship."

 

How does mindfulness help in building resilience?

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises by paying attention, intentionally, in the present moment, without judgment” - Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Beyond Davidson’s research, mindfulness helps to strengthen our resilience by developing 4 key areas:

  • Awareness – We can actively notice what is happening around us and be more aware of the impacts of our actions.
  • Insight – We can be more aware of the narrative that we all carry around about ourselves and shut down negative self-talk.
  • Connection – We can nurture supportive relationships that comfort us when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Purpose – We can find clarity around our purpose and align our words and actions, to enable us to manage the challenges of daily life.

As we become more mindful and explore different forms of meditation, we can develop a more balanced and clear view of ourselves. Working on our awareness, connection, insight and purpose helps us to build resilience and enhance our wellbeing. As our resilience becomes stronger, we can find more effective ways to cope with stress and reduce its impact on our lives.


Sources:

  • Richard Davidson - Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds
  • Richard Davidson & Daniel Goleman, “Altered Traits“