Resiliency is defined as the capacity of a substance “to spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.” Though devastating circumstances might leave us feeling flattened for a time, we are ultimately resilient when we can bounce back from life’s challenges.
Stressful life events are often portrayed as causing suffering; but the link between challenging experiences and lasting emotional distress is mediated by coping skills. People with underdeveloped resiliency resources often feel bent, stretched, and trampled by life’s hardships. But the good news is that coping skills are easy to learn and it is possible to increase emotional resilience.
The first step to coping better is developing a resilient mindset. In her TED talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend,” health psychologist, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, explains that how stress is perceived makes all the difference in how it is experienced. For example, she cites a study showing that those who experienced high levels of stress and believed that stress was harmful to their health had a 43% increased risk of death. What makes this study dramatic is that those with high stress levels who didn’t perceive stress as harmful had the lowest mortality rates of all, even when compared to people with low stress levels. Dr. McGonigal humorously concludes that “believing stress is bad for you [was] the 15th largest cause of death in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS and homicide.”
Fortunately, Dr. McGonigal goes on to explain that we can learn to appreciate stress and its physiological indicators (heart pounding, heavy breathing) as signs that our bodies are preparing to successfully handle the challenge at hand. Amazingly, this shift in mindset changes the physical stress response. One reason that stress is implicated in cardiovascular disease is that usually people’s blood vessels constrict when they are under stress. But when people were taught to think of the arousing effects of stress as the body becoming energized toward constructive action, their blood vessels remained relaxed and open.
A resilient mindset could save your life. It will also help you to rally in the face of life’s hardships by protecting your physical health and enabling you to cope effectively with the challenge before you. With a resilient mentality, you can quickly bounce back and move forward. To increase your resiliency resources, check out Dr. McGonigal’s TED talk and learn to make stress your friend.