What is resilience? People throw the word around all the time: “She’s got great resilience,” or, “He’s really lost his resilience this year.” But what is it? Are we just born with it? Can we learn it?
The American Psychological Association tells us this:
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.
So…how do we learn to “bounce back” better, especially when life is throwing us all kinds of challenges? Research shows that more resilient people do not have brains that are different from those who have difficulty bouncing back from stressors. Rather, resilient brains are more flexible and better able to tap into a wider array of resources when life is hard.
The brain develops neurological “tracks” – over time, these “tracks” can lead our thinking to be more negative (less resilient), or more positive (more resilient). Thus, if you are a person who, in any given situation, tends to focus on negative aspects, you may be less resilient than someone who chooses to focus on the positive. That’s right – chooses to focus on the positive.
Mr. Smith has been caring for his wife with dementia at home – he is her full-time caregiver. Lately, she rarely remembers that he is her husband, though she is usually pleasant and seems happy in his company. Her needs are extensive, though, and at the end of the day, Mr. Smith is exhausted.
The less resilient Mr. Smith thinks: “What is the point of all this? She doesn’t even know who I am! This is exhausting.”
The more resilient Mr. Smith thinks: “She still seems happy when I am near – on some level she does know me. I am tired. But at the end of each day I know we have spent it together and she is safe and cared for in her home.”
Granted, these are black and white examples – each of us would have both resilient and less resilient thoughts in a similar situation. To increase our ability to train our brain toward the positive, toward resiliency, toward strength – it takes practice.
Here at Shore Neurocognitive Health, we can help you increase your resilience and live a happier life in the coming year – no matter what your stressors. We look forward to hearing from you!
Maggie Black, PsyD