A certain level of stress is a constant state we all live in, whether financial challenges, job demands, or relationship tensions. On top of this, we live in a world where technology is vying for our attention 24 hours a day. Stress has an evolutionary advantage as it helped us evolve by alerting us to any potential threats from predators; though our stress nowadays is more of perceived threats than actual physical ones.
This constant stress over time inhibits our body from functioning properly and causes a flood of adrenaline and cortisol; our stress hormone through our bodies at levels far more than they are designed to handle. This not only affects our bodies but also our minds. So our ability to successfully adapt to these highly adverse conditions we have created requires a high level of resilience.
The neurobiological concept of resilience can’t be narrowed down to a single chemical or hormone, but rather is the result of the interaction of multiple chemical elements working in concert throughout complex networks within the human brain and body.
What we have to remember is that there is significant variation in the way individuals react and respond to various levels of stress. In a world changing as quickly as ours, resilience is a skill that we all need to cultivate. Ultimately, we learn to become more resilient through experience and hardship, in particular by developing qualities that facilitate appropriate coping strategies, adaptation, and recovery from stress.
Resilience requires discipline and practice to maintain an emotional state that allows us to act positively after a loss, and to learn how to improve ourselves for the next time. Your brain is the central organ responsible for how we handle the stress response. It processes perceptual information for potential threats and initiates appropriate responses. Your body also regulates the physiological and psychological responses that end up either being adaptive or damaging.
One of the fundamental elements to becoming more resilient is self-empowerment. Studies show a link between feelings of self-empowerment and resilience. Empowering ourselves with a feeling of control over our own situations can have a major influence on stress levels, which then give us the confidence to take control in how we respond to whatever is happening to us in life.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and a range of skills that are used in everyday situations, but all too often people remain unaware of or undervalue their true abilities. Through self-empowerment, we gain an understanding of our strengths and weaknesses.
Self-empowerment then helps us to be in touch with both our psychological and physiological needs – knowing what we need, what we don’t need, and when it’s time to reach out for some extra help. The self-empowered are good at listening to the subtle cues their body and their mind are sending.
Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl tells of his first revelation of the importance of meaning in one’s life, which is taken from his book, A man’s search for meaning. One morning in Auschwitz he was walking out to work. His thoughts: ‘Should I trade my last cigarette for some soup? How will it be to work with this new foreman?’ Suddenly he noted ‘How banal! I will not survive unless it is for more than this.’
He spent time imagining a future that would inspire him. The vision of the future that gave his life meaning was a vision of himself lectures on lessons from camps to hundreds. He worked to create a meaning for himself. There was an important human project that only he could complete. He must survive to publish his book and share his experiences and lessons with the world.
Those who master resilience like Victor tend to be skilled in preparing for emotional emergencies and adept at accepting what comes at them with flexibility rather than rigidity. They also learn how to press the pause button, meaning they listen and assimilate what is happening before reacting to a situation.
Self-empowerment comes more naturally for some, though ultimately we all have the ability to enhance our ability to tap into this vital skill, which when applied consistently helps us to become more resilient. This in return allows us to then ride the ebbing and flowing tides of life that we all have to experience.
Dean Griffiths is the founder and CEO of Energy Fusion, the first interactive online platform to subjectively assess physical and mental health.