Resilience, or the ability to cope or adapt in stressful situations, has been shown to be an essential factor in overall mental and physical well-being. Those who are more resilient have better health outcomes, cope better with loss, and live longer. And while resilience does not protect you from experiencing difficult life situations, it can certainly help you maintain your well-being when hardship comes along. The great news is that resilience is not just something you are born with or without—it is a trait that can absolutely be learned.
There are a ton of ways to build your resilience, but perhaps the single biggest contributor is friendship. Friendships are incredibly protective in many ways; in fact, women who experience stress will have a surge in oxytoxicin, which results in seeking the company of other women for support. Studies show that those with strong friendships are far more resilient in many settings, whether dealing with difficult work situations, a serious medical illness, or even the loss of a loved one. We're learning more and more that health, especially mental health, is all about community and connection—it's about You. We. All.
Sadly, today we are more stressed and isolated than ever before. We are also juggling more and more responsibilities at home and in the workplace. Many of us have moved away from our primary social supports and extended families to pursue jobs and school. Due to this, we are getting by without the extraordinary support that was once so central to the functioning of our society.
Inherently, we know that loneliness is not good for us. In fact, a 2017 survey of 3,000 women found that a third of women are more afraid of feeling lonely than they are of getting diagnosed with cancer. However, as we get busier with our everyday responsibilities, such as work and family, we tend to put our friendships on the back burner. As a result, there is even more loneliness, with as many as 35 percent of Americans reporting feeling very lonely.
One of the biggest hurdles to creating meaningful friendships is simply that people who are socially isolated tend to engage in behaviors that keep them socially isolated, even if they wish they could socialize more. While this may seem counterintuitive, there are certain biological processes that explain our tendency to do this. As we withdraw further from our friends, we tend to increasingly view others negatively, even those with the kindest intentions, and this results in a vicious cycle that ultimately makes us feel even more isolated.
Not super social? No problem. The good news is that you don’t need to be an extrovert or have a million friends. A single close friendship could make the difference in helping to build your resilience. Studies have shown that this is true even in kids; a single close relationship can be extraordinarily protective in even the most vulnerable of children.
Want to build your resilience through better friendships? Here are some tips on how to do it: