Why and How to Build Mental Resilience

The past almost two years has certainly tested us with regards to our ability to endure stress.  While we might feel, at times, that things are out of (our) control, what we can control is our response to these situations.  Mental resilience, as defined by psychologists, is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. While difficult times are certainly painful, they don’t have to determine the outcome of the rest of your life.

Resilience isn’t about putting on a brave face, or simply toughing things out. It doesn’t mean you won’t experience the situation as difficult or distressing. What is does mean is that you have the ability to adapt and evolve from life’s stressors. It can even be an opportunity for profound personal growth. Becoming more resilient not only helps you get through difficult circumstances, it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way. Keep reading to find out the benefits of mental resilience and ways to strengthen your own emotional agility.

Mental resilience training has been shown to:

  • reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression (1)
  • enhance coping skills (2)
  • prevent workplace burnout (3)(4) (5)
  • and promote longevity (6)

Seven strategies for better mental resilience

The most effective strategy for improving your emotional agility is to engage the technique of “active coping,” which involves behavioral and/or psychological strategies used to modify the stressor or one’s perception of the stressor. Conversely, avoidant coping techniques such as participation in activities or mental processes to avoid the stressor, can lead to psychological distress and ongoing adverse reactions to stress. (7) Follow the strategies below to cultivate healthier coping mechanisms.

1. Find support

Seeking positive social support has been shown to improve resilience to stress and may even decrease genetic and environmental vulnerabilities. (8) Avoid isolating yourself and instead share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or peer.

2. Say positive affirmations

Positive affirmations can help you unlearn negative thought patterns and shift your perspective to a more positive outlook. Repeating self-affirmations, such as “I am confident and capable,” has been shown to decrease stress, enhance well-being, and reduce the effect of negative emotions. (9)

3. Stay active

Research demonstrates that physical activity can be especially beneficial for individuals facing significant stressors. (10) As a general recommendation, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise per week. (11)

4. Spend time in nature

The simple act of sitting on a park bench or taking a stroll outdoors can have profound effects on your mental well-being and resilience. Research demonstrates that visiting outdoor recreation sites can promote psychological and physical health. (12)

5. Maintain a sense of humor

Laughter is a highly effective strategy for relieving stress. Research investigating the benefits of laughter in veterans, terminally ill individuals, and adolescents has shown laughter to be protective against stress. (13) Watch your favorite sitcom, visit a comedy show, or call a friend who makes you laugh.

6. Practice mindfulness and meditation

Practice mindfulness by enjoying a meal without distractions, taking a yoga class, or practicing deep breathing exercises. Reflecting in a journal is also an excellent strategy for practicing mindfulness. Try jotting down a few things for which you’re grateful or reflect on some of the positive aspects of your life. (14) Furthemore, meditation may help improve resilience by bringing your mind to the present moment and calming racing thoughts. (15)

7. Find your purpose

Having a purpose in life not only promotes longevity and general well-being, but it may help you face stressors more productively, enhance emotional recovery skills, and facilitate recovery from challenging events. (16) Find your purpose, such as through volunteering, helping others, caring for a pet, or reaching for a personal life goal. (17)

The bottom line

Mental resilience training can help cultivate mental well-being, enhance coping skills, improve job satisfaction, and even promote longevity. By practicing active coping skills like those outlined in this article, you can be on your way to establishing mental resilience. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, speak to a qualified health professional for guidance and support.

Tasleem Kassam