More people than ever are struggling with their mental health, a trend we view as proof that their resilience has been overwhelmed by the uniquely trying times we’re all going through.
Resilience is the ability to face life’s inevitable challenges and deal with them. If a challenge does knock us down, resilience allows us to get up again and face the next one.
We each have a certain capacity to deal with challenges. Picture it this way: Each of us contains a little reservoir filled with a magic elixir that nourishes our baseline resilience. This reservoir is a different size for everyone, and the level changes based on a variety of factors, many of which are within our control.
How can we preserve enough of this elixir to stay afloat? Can we replenish it? And is it possible to enlarge our reserves so our roots stay strong and healthy?
These seven strategies can help you keep your own reservoir at least half full — and maybe even increase its capacity.
1. Balance Your Brain Chemistry
The concept is often oversimplified, but brain chemistry is foundational. The neurotransmitter serotonin may even be seen as a key ingredient of that magic elixir that feeds resilience. Rather than relying solely on medication to manage these chemicals, we recommend simple daily habits that support a healthy brain. Focusing on diet, a few targeted nutritional supplements, and some modest behavior change can often provide better results, with minimal side effects.
2. Manage Your Energy
Diet and supplements certainly play a role in energy, but we like to emphasize movement and exercise. That’s because expending energy in a way that’s right for your body forces you to become better at making more energy. It also helps you feel more balanced and less fatigued. Even a daily 30 to 45 minutes of mild aerobic activity, like walking, does wonders for energy and resilience.
3. Align With Nature
Like all mammals, we live within the rhythms of nature. The most important natural cycle is sleep, but there are also hourly, daily, monthly, and seasonal cycles — as well as those that change over the course of our lifetimes. We can learn from nature how to manage our stress response so that it becomes just one cycle among many.
Nonhuman animals in nature can do this. When they experience life-threatening stresses that cause adrenaline and cortisol levels to shoot through the roof, their bodies return to baseline almost immediately. (Notably, when stress remains chronic, this can change.)
4. Calm Your Mind
Left to its own devices, the mind can get really busy. It’s often called “monkey mind” because it jumps from one branch to another, perching on worries, fears, and regrets. Those branches sap our resilience and joy if we stay perched too long, but our minds can be tamed. With practice, we can learn to reclaim our focus and reclaim the power we have given to our thoughts. Just stepping back and distancing ourselves a little from negative thoughts can help us root down.
5. Turn Toward the Feeling
Many of us deal with difficult emotions like fear, anger, and sadness in one of two ineffective ways: We avoid, or we overreact. The key is to stay grounded while you experience the emotion — but not get stuck in it for too long. The way to do that is to move directly into it, which may seem counterintuitive. Keep your attention on the feeling long enough to experience it deeply, and then allow it to work its way out.
6. Cultivate a Good Heart
This step is about learning to love fully and well. When you open yourself up to compassion, gratitude, lovingkindness, and other heart-based emotions, you grow the size of the resilience reservoir that deepens your roots. The best part about this is that it’s no risk and all reward. You will never regret putting your time and effort into cultivating a good heart; it always pays off.
7. Create Deep Connections
Building and maintaining great personal relationships is key to resilience, but this step is about more than just social connections. It’s also about connecting with the deeper parts of yourself — and something beyond yourself, however you think of that.
Think about the metaphor of an entire reservoir filled with the elixir of resilience. Cultivating a good heart is a lot like building a pipeline to access that supply; creating deep connections allows us to draw that elixir out and use it. This might be the single most important thing we can do for our resilience — and maybe for our overall health.
Although none of us can control external events, these principles can hold us steady and deliver nourishment during difficult times. They can support our daily choices and motivate us to make healthier ones. This all will help replenish our reservoirs and ensure that they’re full enough to sustain our resilience.
This article originally appeared as “The Roots of Resilience” in the March 2023 issue of Experience Life.
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