Resilience can help you meet life’s biggest challenges. Discover how embracing specific lifestyle habits can help you build resilience.
Imagine that you are a rubber band. If you are resilient, you can stretch and expand, eventually returning to a shape and condition that feels like you. Lacking resilience, you become like an overstretched, brittle band, breaking under the slightest strain.
You are born with a certain amount of innate resilience and build more throughout your childhood, and resilience is also a skill that can be learned as an adult. Some specific lifestyle habits create resilience. Bringing those habits into your daily routine creates elasticity—the ability to stretch—so that when you are faced with adversity, you have the space within yourself to be present and engage with the challenge rather than be broken by it.
Here are five lifestyle practices that help you respond to rather than react to life’s challenges.
Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can put you on edge even during non-stressful days. Your ability to think clearly and rationally is seriously impaired. Sleep hygiene is important to pay attention to. If you find that you are not sleeping for a stretch and have cleaned up your pre-bedtime habits, you might consider acupuncture or cognitive behavioral therapy to smooth your path back to sweet dreams.
Valuing strong social bonds. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that increases when you have a strong and healthy connection with others. Knowing that you have people you can reach out to when difficult situations arise creates an added layer of resilience. Connected to this is reaching out to others, which creates powerful psychological and physiological responses that further move the needle away from an overpowering stress response.
Self-regulating your emotions. If you find yourself flying off the handle at the slightest provocation, which then initiates a whole cascade of stress in your body, you will benefit from practicing ways to manage your level of emotional response. Redirecting your full attention can be an in-the-moment strategy but learning and leveraging tools such as cognitive reappraisal and self-regulation can help you manage your emotions and build a host of other self-care skills.
Meditation has proven benefits with regards to emotional regulation, and there is promising research showing that listening to delta frequency binaural beats can create positive changes in this regard as well.
Cultivating positive emotions. Positive emotions, which include not just happiness, but also purpose, curiosity, learning, and wonder, create the physiology of resilience. We become more resourceful and creative in finding solutions, and the overall tone of our life becomes more optimistic: We can create positive stories and see the lessons in our circumstances.
Exercising. Physical movement has a proven track record of helping to keep stress at bay. It is important to note that intense physical exercise can elevate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, therefore raising, rather than lowering, your reactive threshold. Light exercise—a walk around the block with a friend or in nature—can help lower it. Yoga also has been shown to be a powerful buffer for stress, consequently increasing resilience.
I put myself through college as a student athletic trainer and went on to spend years as a personal trainer. Through this work, it became very clear to me just how interconnected every aspect of our health is and how all parts of our health build on each other.
I was in high school when I discovered how important exercise is for me, not just for my physical wellbeing, but also for my mental health. Depression lurks in my genetic blueprint. Knowing that, I access the power of exercise to keep me on the right side of it.
I’ve since come to appreciate the profound benefits of sleep, relating in a healthy way to my emotions, and making time for close friends.
As I’ve weathered the storms of life, birthing and raising two humans, being married for two decades, learning to mitigate chronic back pain, and living through the sudden loss of my father, I’ve come to appreciate more deeply how each choice I make on a daily basis offers me a cushion of resilience. When I make choices that don’t serve me, that cushion begins to feel thin and worn out.
When I sleep (which I didn’t for years when my kids were young and again after my father died), spend quality time with close friends, resist the urge to fly off the handle emotionally, and intentionally savor all the goodness that surrounds me, the ship of my life feels steady.
There are times, though, when the storms have sent me sideways, nearly capsizing me. I’ve gotten better at finding my ballast, remembering to rest, resetting my nervous system, and planting my bare feet on the ground, one foot in front of the other.
This is the third story in our series on resilience. Read the first two stories from Kalia Kelmenson:
- “Build Resilience by Creating an Upward Emotional Spiral”
- “Roadmap for Resilience After a Broken Heart”
Coming next: “Creating Resilience in the Body.”