In her outstanding book “Good Anxiety”, Dr. Wendy Suzuki talks extensively about resilience. She describes its importance for well-being, it’s relationship to stress, and how to build more of it. Resilience is essentially one’s ability to bounce back from hardship, from stress or trauma. It’s like the yin to stress being the yang, she says.
We are wired for stress, but we are also wired to build resilience to that stress. This is so we don’t get stuck in a stressful or fearful state all of the time. The brain and body like to maintain a state of equilibrium. So our brains try to pull us out of negative states. But only if we let them and don’t override our resilience by continuing to bathe our brains in negative thinking. This leads to chronic stress, sickness or worse.
Thankfully, because of the brain’s ability to change (neuroplasticity), we can build resilience. Even if we’ve let it dwindle and find ourselves in a chronic state of stress or anxiety, we can condition ourselves to bounce back stronger and stronger. We can eliminate that stress and reframe the way we process it so it stops wreaking havoc on our lives.
How To Build Resilience
Dr. Suzuki talks about various ways to build resilience. Simple activities like exercise, play, and even sex can help build resilience. When we lean into challenges, take on moderate amounts of “good stress” (like exercise or cold showers), practice relaxation techniques (like meditation or deep breathing), eat healthy and get adequate, high quality sleep, we build better resilience.
That’s because these activities promote the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine that are rewarding and facilitate activity in brain areas critical for resilience, like the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. By adopting behaviors like these that target specific brain areas, we can drive neuroplasticity and improve brain areas that improve resilience.
So remember, our brains are malleable. We can change and improve them at almost any age in life. If you are suffering from anxiety, worry, fear, stress through the roof, you can change! You can bounce back. You can practice behaviors that improve resilience and return to a chronic state of equilibrium and better manage those negative emotional states so they occur less frequently.
Try ending your showers with a little cold exposure. Get more sunlight. Grab a partner and start a consistent exercise routine. Or train a little harder. Especially if you are feeling the weight of the world upon your shoulders. The more you introduce good stress into your life, the easier it will be for you to handle the bad stress and build resilience to it.
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