"We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary."

Carol Dweck

It is natural for us to want to control everything around us. Resilience allows us to handle the stress of change more positively. Our experiences shape us. We all face adversity, have fears, and get anxious.  When faced with this we may feel feelings of anxiety, fear and sadness, but how do you learn and teach others to bounce back from a setback?

 

The Science

Resilience begins in the brain. By managing our stress levels during change we can develop our resilience. Stress and anxiety can lead to a shutdown in the part of our brain known as, the prefrontal cortex.  The prefrontal cortex is associated with attention, problem solving, impulsive behaviours and emotion regulation, when this becomes impaired we can become emotional, withdrawn, defiant, angry and resentful when faced with stressors.  Resilience activates the prefrontal cortex, calming the amygdala (associated with our ability to problem solve, regulate impulsive behaviours and emotion regulation).  This allows us to then recover from, adapt to, find solutions to and/or challenge stressors. 

 

Source: Brain Train Coach

What does a lack of resilience look like?

When the demands of the stressor outweigh our capacity to cope, this can lead to negative patterns of behaviour.  This may be expressed as,

  • dwelling on problems
  • feelings of  victimisation
  • feelings of overwhelmed
  • unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse

 

Why we should practice resilience?

Resilience levels change over time due to the different events we experience across the life span. At times it may feel like we are very resilient and setbacks may challenge this. It is important to practice techniques and use language that develop our resilience, allowing us to cope better. Developing resilience is a personal process, it’s important to choose the methods that best suit you.

 

Recognise your own signs of stress. Being able to identify these feelings in your body allows you to get a better understanding of yourself. It is important to also develop an understanding of the behaviours you engage in when you become stressed. Understanding these cues will help you problem solve and reduce automatic behavioural responses.

Connect with and create a meaningful reciprocal relationships with loved ones (and yourself).  Ensure that interaction are responsive, positive and open and encourage positive. Be a source of support and seek it out. Secure attachments help us to be more trusting of the world around us. 

Help should be seen positively. Ask for help when you need it and expect others to ask for your help, in turn. When we feel supported, we feel more able to take on new challenges.  Not only does the reciprocator of the help receive much needed support (increasing resilience) but it also raises the self esteem of the helper. This helps raise confidence.

Reframe negative statements about yourself. In line with raising self esteem. Write a list of your strengths and achievements. Work towards engaging in more positive self talk and engage in self care practices.

Growth mindsets allow us to face challenges head on and keep going, viewing change as an opportunity. It’s important that we use and encourage growth mindset based language, moving away from fixed mindset language. We often use this language unknowingly as it has been embedded in the English language.  Some examples are ‘talent’, and ‘intelligence’. Encourage persistence in the face of adversity.

Reflect when things go well and not-so-well. When something doesn’t quite go your way or you are faced with adversity it is important to reflect on it,  think about how we can resolve the problem and what we have learned from the experience.

Take risks. Encourage safe and considered risk taking through games and activities. This can be something as small as trying something new, or going somewhere new. It can also mean an activity that is more labour intensive.

Executive Function refers to the cognitive functions necessary to plan, and complete one or more tasks. It involves . Our brains are like muscles and it is important to develop the areas that support these functions.  Formal training isn’t necessary and can often be achieved through team sports, board games and card games.

Mindfulness is a great way to support mental health and well being. It also supports healthy cognitive functioning and has been purported to lead to structural cognitive changes over time. The amygdala is the area activated when we engage in impulsive behaviours, and is related to emotional learning, our memory systems, decision making, and pleasure / fear responses. Through mindfulness we can strengthen the connection between the amygdala and the pre frontal cortex, which is an area responsible for decision making. Calming our immediate impulsive response to threats and/or fear and allowing us to make decisions. 

Model the above. Often seeing this in action reminds us and those around us to adopt these traits.

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