Contrary to what many people think, resilience has nothing to do with avoiding stress, hardship, or failures in life. Instead, it's about knowing that you'll be met with adversity and that when it happens, you'll be prepared to take it on, learn from it, and become stronger as a result. In other words, resilience is the ability to bounce back easily and thrive in the face of life's many inevitable challenges.
It's true that some people are naturally more resilient than others. These folks see challenges as opportunities, are able to maintain a positive outlook, and find meaning in the struggle. For others, resilience is learned and takes continuous work.
When you're truly resilient, adversity doesn’t get you down physically, emotionally, or psychologically (not for long, at least). And the most resilient people have an inner trust that they have the resources to handle anything. Here are five things resilient people do differently:
1. They build physical vitality and vigor.
If you aren't physically fit, your ability to handle challenges, think clearly, stay positive, and ultimately bounce back from adversity and illness diminishes. Improving physical vitality requires that you begin to perceive everything in your life as fuel that enables your body to thrive. To become more resilient, fuel your body with:
- Physical exercise that is versatile, challenging, and includes mobility and flexibility, aerobic activity, and weight training.
- Eight hours of restful sleep each night.
- Time for relaxation for the mind and body.
- Healthy nutrition that is void of inflammatory foods and includes plenty of vegetables, some fruits, nuts, seeds, proteins, and healthy grains and fats.
2. They achieve mental and emotional clarity and equilibrium.
Your thoughts and emotions—positive and negative—also serve as fuel for your body and mind. Under duress, positive beliefs, confidence, and the ability to think clearly falter. This is because fear takes over, along with a cascade of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Studies show1 that resilient individuals, on the other hand, not only maintain positive emotions, but they use them to bounce back from negative experiences, as they remain confident, optimistic, and open in the face of change. The path toward improving this pillar of resilience includes:
- A mindfulness practice that teaches you to hone your sense of awareness, be in the present moment, turn down negative chatter, relax, and stay open.
- Learning to use negative emotions as signals and opportunities for growth and change, thus controlling them instead of letting them control you.
- A practice like journaling or self-observation. This will help you release your thoughts and learn to observe them objectively to develop keener reasoning abilities and clarity.
3. They cultivate spiritual awareness and purpose.
Another characteristic found among resilient people is that they tend to possess2 a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and that this spiritual outlook enables them to better deal with trauma. Being more spiritual doesn't necessarily mean being more religious, the term spirituality is associated with the profound belief that you belong to something greater. This sense of belonging and meaning confers better behaviors, healthier choices, and a more positive mental attitude for most. You can awaken and harness this pillar of resilience by doing the following:
- Connecting to your religious belief system through prayer or meditation.
- Practicing mindfulness in nature, aligning with the greatness and beauty of the earth daily.
- Joining a spiritual community.
- Volunteering for an organization that has a greater purpose of helping others.
- Working toward understanding your own higher purpose.
4. They strive for relationship balance.
Studies show3 that social support and loving relationships are essential for maintaining physical and psychological health. When under stress, socialization and trust become more difficult as oxytocin (the bonding hormone) levels drop and stress hormones rise. Nurturing relationships, staying open, and communicating well—even under duress—are traits that enable you to adapt to difficult times. Ways to cultivate this pillar of resilience include:
- Assessing how balanced your relationships are, the role you play in any success or failure in this area, and which relationships serve you and don't.
- Learning to become attuned to the wants and needs of your heart and your past stories that propel your behaviors and choices that invariably hurt your relationships so that you can effect positive change.
- Practicing open and mindful listening and communication.
- Enhancing practices of compassion, gratitude, and seeing value in others.
5. They make themselves part of a team.
Cultivating networks of support, knowing you're part of a community that relies on you, and understanding your value will help you find purpose in even the most difficult times. You have an influence on people around you, and the larger your role, the greater your influence. This means that when you're distressed, negative, lacking social grace, or sick, it will affect your family, co-workers, peers, and even people on the street, giving you a sense of accountability and responsibility to more than just yourself. Improving this pillar of resilience—whether you are a boss, CEO, principal, or parent—involves doing the following:
- Working through blocks and negative mindsets that keep you isolated or alienated from others.
- Practicing finding value in the virtues and efforts of the people around you.
- Staying aware of the influence you have on others based on your state of mind, emotions, and attitude.
- Controlling your stress response to be clearheaded, authentic, and insightful in the face of change and inspiring others to do the same.
No two individuals are alike, which means the process of achieving optimal resilience will differ for everyone. The key for everyone, though, is to become fit in every way possible: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Dr. Eva Selhub is an expert in the fields of stress, resilience and mind-body medicine. She studied medicine at Boston University and is board certified in Internal Medicine. She has been a lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School, a clinical associate at Massachusetts General Hospital, and was medical director and senior physician at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She now runs a private practice as a comprehensive medical specialist and transformation consultant and is the author of Your Health Destiny: How to Unlock Your Natural Ability to Overcome Illness, Feel Better, and Live Longer.