Encountering life’s obstacles and hardships may ultimately be unavoidable at times. They can range from trivial annoyances to traumatic events that leave psychological scars. And despite our best efforts to cope with hardships, we sometimes still find ourselves vulnerable to stress, depression, self-criticism and, essentially, self-destruction that stem from undesirable outcomes or failures that we face in life.
Although we cannot control life’s mishaps from happening, we can learn how to control our mind and behavior to best handle adverse situations. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “we cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” This goes to show that man has not only known the meaning of adversity for thousands of years, but has also acknowledged that there is a solution or, perhaps, a cure for such adversity. In fact, stress is an integral part of nature, not just in humans, but in every living organism such as animals and trees. It acts as a defense mechanism designed to ensure survival, which is to say that stress is not always evil, but rather a necessary part of life. In this way, we should learn how to manage our stress in healthy ways in order to best coexist with this inherent part of life.
When life hits you, no matter how hard, you can always find ways to bounce back from difficult circumstances by tapping into your inner reserves of resilience. But first, you must understand and, in turn, strengthen your resilience. By definition, resilience is the capacity to recover from difficult situations and is, therefore, vital to the survival and advancement of the human race. Resilience can be taught, learned and recovered. Building your resilience takes practice and awareness, but it is not beyond your capabilities.
Your Brain’s Flexibility
Human beings are innately equipped with the capacities to develop and strengthen their resilience. These capacities include maintaining an inner calm under pressure, responding to circumstances flexibly and rationally, persevering in the midst of doubt and despair and taking action in the face of adversity.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself in such a way that the brain’s nerve cells compensate for injury and disease and adjust to new situations or changes throughout a person’s life, according to MedicineNet. Therefore, you can develop the capacities for resilience starting right now even if you did not fully develop them early on in your life. Your neuroplasticity can be self-directed through the choices that you make in your daily life. This self-conducted activity engages the prefrontal cortex, which controls cognitive functions such as planning, decision- making, analyses and judgment. The prefrontal cortex also regulates the function of the body and the nervous system, modulates emotions and extinguishes fear responses. These functions of the prefrontal cortex are critical to resilience.
Given that the brain can constantly adapt to changing experiences, influencing the brain works both ways. On the one hand, resilience can be diminished if the brain experiences negative or traumatic events. On the other hand, you can strengthen your resilience by selectively choosing experiences that will positively stimulate and influence the brain. Resilience strengthening can be achieved through activities such as perception of safety, acceptance by another person, conscious reflection like mindfulness, and cultivation of positive emotions. Therefore, you should learn to selectively and actively choose good and useful experiences that are available to us and avoid the bad and undesired ones.
How Emotions Impact Your Resilience
Emotions are physiologically inherent in human beings. As you may already know firsthand, we can experience many different emotions in one day or even in just one moment. They may range from enjoyment of the morning weather, anxiety when you rush to a meeting while getting stuck in traffic, indignation when a coworker takes credit for an idea you came up with, to terror for the future when a spouse or child gets a life-threatening diagnosis. And it is without a doubt that a particular emotion, let alone simultaneous conflicting emotions, can play an essential role in your resilience. However, when your brain exercises positive neuroplasticity, you can quickly recover your emotional poise, ease and well-being after an unpleasant situation. You essentially regain your center. After doing so, you can logically and intelligently distinguish what exactly is triggering your emotions and how to wisely respond to those triggers.
As a rule of thumb, it is never resilient to be too overwhelmed by an emotion as you will not be able to think and act rationally, which may lead to at best unwanted consequences, and at worst harmful and life-threatening situations. On the other hand, it is also not resilient to suppress your emotions, such as anger, grief or even shame, as emotions can actually help us build up the energy and motivation you need to bounce back from an upsetting event. You have to learn to strike a balance between the two in order to filter out good emotions from the bad. This will help arrive at favorable solutions and overcome any of life’s challenges that you will inevitably encounter.