By Tomoko Hamma, DO, and Shawn Sidhu, MD


Are We Born With It, Or Can We Build It?

"Fall down seven times, get up eight. " -- Japanese proverb

When it comes to self-improvement, many of us instantly think about the barriers in our lives, difficulties with relationships, work stress or weaknesses in ourselves.

While dwelling on the negatives might be a natural human tendency, it is quite possible that we could get even more out of thinking about the things going well in our lives and how we can become more resilient.

So what is resilience? The American Psychological Association defines it as the mental process of adapting or "bouncing back" from life adversities such as trauma, tragedy, threats or stress.

We all experience difficulties and challenges in our lives, and resilience is the key ingredient for recovery. The good news is that resilience is not a single trait, but rather a set of skills one can build. Learning and developing these skills makes you healthier, stronger, more content, less stressed and more available to your loved ones.

Constant stress can change the brain's shape, wiring and production of vital chemicals. These changes alter our nervous system's ability to respond appropriately, quickly putting the body into fight-or-flight mode with little provocation. This can lead to a variety of psychiatric conditions. If you are stuck in this state, it is important to seek professional attention.

The good news is that because the brain is a flexible organ and continues to change throughout our lives, you can train it to make new connections and respond better to difficult situations. Positive thinking, a key component of resilience, can boost your mood and immune system and reduce stress hormone and inflammation markers, protecting you from multiple medical conditions, including mental illnesses.

Resilience can be best cultivated when your brain, mind and body are nurtured in the context of a supportive community. The feeling of belonging, being recognized and having a sense of meaning and purpose are particularly important.

Here are 10 key steps to build your resilience:

  • Find healthy and supportive people who bring out the best in you. These are people who you aspire to be like one day. Be willing to not only give help, but also to ask for it. Cultivate understanding by putting yourself in the shoes of others.
  • See difficulties as opportunity for growth. Change your perspective.
  • Accept that change is unavoidable. Be adaptable and flexible.
  • Set and work toward specific and reachable goals. Celebrate small successes.
  • Take action with problem-solving skills. Without taking action, it is easy to feel powerless and hopeless.
  • Discover and accept who you are. Be mindful and self-tempered.
  • Love and take care of yourself. Make sure you get proper nutrition, exercise and sleep. Spend time in nature.
  • Believe in yourself. You can do it - yes, you can.
  • Keep stressful events in perspective: "This too shall pass."
  • Be optimistic. Good things can and will happen. Use humor.

So next time you fall down, ask for help standing up. Keep your head up and your eyes fixed on the horizon. Pay attention to your surroundings with curiosity and new perspectives.

You might feel vulnerable or uncertain, but you need only take one big step forward. Keep walking. Never give up. Life continues. You are a very special person in this world.

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