The Brainwork of Resilience (Part Two)
Common Resilience Factors
Through their two decades of work with trauma survivors, Dr. Steven and Dr. Dennis Charney identified 10 common resilience factors: realistic optimism, facing fear, moral compass, religion and spirituality, social support, resilient role models, physical fitness, brain fitness, cognitive and emotional flexibility, and meaning and purpose. The following factors are the ones they singled out as the most commonly identified as being critical for managing stress and trauma by the resilient individuals they interviewed.
Positive Emotions and Optimism
A large body of research has shown that optimism and positive emotions have a robust association with physical and mental health. This is a realistic optimism where close attention was paid to both positive and relevant negative information but filtered out or disengaged from irrelevant negative information. Realistic optimists use relevant negative stimuli to inform their decisions, but not dwell on it.
Many resilient people embrace a core set of moral and ethical principles that help to build character and guide them during times of high stress. These principles focus on self-control, discipline, perseverance, endurance, the moral courage to stand up for what one believes to be right, and altruism. That is quite the collection of attributes to follow.
Having a strong social network is associated with resilience. Close supportive relationships may enhance resilience as well as mental and physical health by increasing self-confidence, fostering the use of more effective action-based coping strategies and reducing high-risk behaviors.
Connectivity to other human beings is a hard-wired trait passed to us from our prehistoric ancestors. One method of capitalizing on role model connections is to observe and then imitate how the role model reacts in time of high stress. Noticing if the role model takes an active approach (assessing the situation, solving problems, reaching out for social support) rather than a passive one (waiting for the dust to settle, procrastinating, blaming others, drinking alcohol) allows for a principle to follow that will enhance resilience.
Researchers have discovered that we have mirror neurons. When humans observe the behavior or emotion of another person, the same brain regions that are activated in the observed person are also activated in the observer. It is possible that mirror neurons play an important role in empathy and social competence.
Physical exercise improves physical health. But exercise can also have a strong positive effect on mental health and resilience. Exercise reduces symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety, to elevate mood, and improve brain function and cognition. Besides exercise having positive effects on health and to enhance resilience to stress through a number of neurobiological mechanisms: increased cerebral blood flow; increased perfusion of the hippocampus; increased release of chemicals known to lessen depression (e.g. serotonin, dopamine) and improve mood (e.g. endorphins); dampening the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal response to stress, which may protect the brain from the damaging effects of prolonged cortisol exposure; and enhanced expression of genes associated with neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, which may help repair and promote growth of neurons in a number of brain regions.
(Southwick,S., & Charney,D. (June 25, 2019). Resilience: How Your Brain Helps You Bounce Back)
Practical Ways to Increase Your Resilience
According to the American Psychological Association, here are some ways to increase resilience.
Make Connections: Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthen resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems: You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
Accept that change is a part of living: Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
Move toward your goals: Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly – even if it seems like a small accomplishment – that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go.
Take decisive action: Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would go away.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery: People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect, as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, a greater sense of strength even when feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.
Nurture a positive view of yourself: Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective: Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
Maintain a hopeful outlook: An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Take care of yourself: Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and feel relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful: For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.
Mindfulness, visualization, and cognitive behavioral therapy have also been proven to increase resiliency.
(Hampton,D. (August 5, 2015). The neuroscience of building a resilient Brain. The Best Brain Possible)
Hampton, D. (August 5, 2018). The neuroscience of building a resilient brain. Retrieved from www.thebestbrainpossible.com/neuroscience-resilient-brain-stress/
Southwick,S. & Charney,D. (June 25, 2019). Resilience: how your brain helps you bounce back. Retrieved from https://brainworldmagazine.com/resilience-brain-helps-bounce-back/