With the pandemic continuing into 2021, stress levels are at an all time high. Most people have been challenged in unimaginable ways. Whether it be isolation and loneliness from sheltering in place, loss of income, or even loss of a loved one due to Covid 19, we ,as a nation, have been pushed to the limits.
However in times of stress, one’s resilience comes to the forefront. In focusing on self care and self exploration , it is the rule rather than exception, that struggles, anxiety, grief, and trauma can provide an opportunity for growth. To be clear, this is not to dismiss pain,anguish, and struggle. Rather, we can use these difficulties as a springboard for growth.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is defined as the capacity to respond to pressures and tragedies quickly, adaptively and effectively(Graham,2013). It is our ability to both “go with the flow” and learn from our difficult experience, resulting, in time, a better understanding of self, increased confidence, and functioning. But it begs the question, why are some folks more resilient than others, and can resilience be taught?
The truth is some folks are more resilient than others. Some of this stems from a having a strong support system and a healthy development prior to the difficult event. That being said, even the most resilient person will struggle with traumatic event, like a pandemic. So if even the most resilient struggles, is it possible to learn to be more resilient? The answer is yes.
Neurons that Fire Together, Wire Together
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new pathways and grow. Studies on neuroplasticity(Siegel,2007)repeatedly show the brain’s ability to re-wire, grow and change in response to new experiences, both joyful and traumatic. This means that when we are faced with a new challenge, our brains are primed to learn new ways to cope. Similarly, when we try new healthful ways of coping in the face of struggle, our brains are ready to develop new pathways, becoming stronger and more resilient. Further, the window of opportunity for increasing resilience does not have an expiration date. The brain continues to create neural pathways throughout our lives.
Ways to Increase Emotional Resilience
Practice daily self care: good nutrition, sleep, and exercise increases our general sense of well being and provides a sense of stability in the face of negative events.
Journaling: Writing about your struggles allows increased self reflection and emotional attunement. This creates new understandings of our inner voice and increases resilience. Focus on what things are particularly challenging as well as the ways you cope. Thinking about what lessons may be learned, and how you would like to be different, stimulates the brain.
Mindfulness: Become aware and curious about your thoughts and feelings in response to challenge. Focus simply on noticing rather than judging. This is a powerful data collector for our brains, providing new material to link/ wire for growth.
Practice Self-compassion: cut yourself a break when shame/guilt/self deprecating thoughts come up. This practice is a very powerful fuel for resilience.
Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy can be a powerful catalyst for resilience. New insights, coping techniques, and emotional attunement help fuel resilience. In some instances of trauma or enduring depression/anxiety, working with a trained psychotherapist is needed to create new coping skills and insights. Having a mental health professional serve as shepherd, witness, and support while working through intense trauma and emotional strife is a powerful tool for change.
Resilience is a constant and enduring quality that we all can cultivate. Here’s to finding our strongest inner selves.
Pamela Warner Marsh, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist at Marsh Psychology Group. Contact her at 248-860-2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources and Citations:
Graham, Linda. Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. New World Library, 2013.
Siegel, Daniel (2007). The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being (Illustrated ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.