Build Resilience, Balance Stress

Stress is ubiquitous.  ­­In today’s society, stress is all too common for most people – from children younger than kindergarten age all the way up to those same children’s grandparents.  We hear teenagers reply “I’m so stressed out!” when asked what’s up; adults share “I have too much stress” when describing work situations; parents report “I’m stressed and yelled at the kids again” when talking work-home balance.  So how do we find a balance to all this stress?  Is it even possible?  Let’s take a look at resilience to consider what might work for you to address the stress in your life.

What can I do?  Understanding Resilience and Brain Neuroplasticity

Resilience is commonly defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  To better understand how resiliency can be your counterweight to stress, consider what we’ve learned from brain science.  Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to grow and change in response to experience, has set the stage for our understanding that by practicing mind-body strategies such as spending time with important others, meeting our bodies’ needs for sleep, nutrition & exercise, and incorporating relaxation training, we can strengthen neuroconnectors in our brains so that we are less reactive to stress and more resilient and open to healthy processing of stress.

How does this work? Exploring Stress with Evolutionary Science

Evolution science tells us that human brains are made to respond to threatening situations for human survival.  When faced with a threat, or what we now commonly refer to as stress, the brain automatically releases neurotransmitters and hormones to regulate our fight or flight reactions.  Nowadays we rarely need to jump right into fighting or fleeing when feeling stressed, yet our bodies’ responses to stress vault us into that mode, causing all sorts of problems for our physical and mental health.  We get headaches and stomachaches, feelings of worry and sadness affect work or school, and we often either withdraw from activities with friends or we medicate to get rid of these negative feelings and symptoms.  Yet these strategies do nothing to promote resilience, to help us bounce back from stress.

How can I promote resilience?

The key lies in understanding ways we can strengthen neuroconnections in our brain to take us from that fight/flight or alarm center in our brains, to the frontal lobe, the smart part of our brain that encourages healthy decision making.   The brain is a muscle; like all muscles, practice improves our abilities to get stronger.  Stronger here is seen as cultivating resilience.  Resiliency in the face of stress focuses around maintaining calm so that you can better access your smart brain to make good decisions.  Find it difficult to stay calm (like most of us)?  Read on…

4 ways to build resilience

  1. Connect with others
    • Surround yourself with caring and calm others; use loving touch to release oxytocin, the ‘feel good’ hormone
  2. Foster awareness
    • Meditate, pray, do mindful movement practices, practice self-compassion
  3. Attend to biology
    • Self-care in eating, sleeping, exercising, and breathing
  4. Do for others
    • Be kind and help others to increase your own resilience to adversity

Find a path you like to take you to your calm center that helps you stay strong in facing stress.  Whether you find support in connections, enjoy self-awareness practices, advocate self care, or find strength in doing for others, you are building resiliency and strengthening the neural pathways in your brain that lead you to healthy decision making.  You are fostering resilience, and changing your mantra from stressed out to strength in.  And that’s a smart way to handle stress.

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