Think of emotional resilience as armor for the mind, push-ups for the brain.
Emotional resilience helps to protect a person from the debilitating effects of trauma and high-stress situations. Some people may seem more naturally resilient than others, but resilience can be developed and strengthened.
While many traits are associated with mental hardiness, researchers – backed by studies involving brain chemistry measurements – have identified six factors that are consistently identified as resiliency builders and stress resisters. It's also been found that bolstering one resilience factor usually has the positive effect of boosting other resilience factors.
An active coping style – basically, learning to face fears – promotes emotional well-being. Active coping involves working to solve the problem and accepting the emotions that stress brings.
A person with a passive coping style, on the other hand, denies feelings, "gives in" to the problem and often will abuse alcohol or other drugs to cover up feelings.
Physical exercise builds mind health as well as body health. It releases endorphins and other so-called happy hormones that lift moods and apparently increase the brain’s ability to learn from, and adapt to, stressful situations.
Maintaining a positive outlook and keeping a sense of humor go a long way toward emotional resilience. A depressed person tends to view problems as all-encompassing and permanent. A positive thinker puts negative events into perspective and recognizes that hardships are temporary.
Religious beliefs or spirituality can provide a moral compass that is strongly associated with emotional resilience, especially if they lead to altruism – finding fulfillment by helping others.
Resilient individuals have strong social support systems that help increase feelings of self-worth and keep problems in perspective. It's also beneficial to find a role model who is resilient and to learn from that person.
Finding the good in the bad demonstrates what scientists call "cognitive flexibility" and is considered a critical component to resilience. Individuals who successfully overcome a crisis and don't become depressed usually find that the negative event had some purpose.
Used with permission from the Naval Center for Combat & Operational Stress Control. www.nccosc.navy.mil.