Learning to Become More Resilient

By Jonathan Dugas

We are born with some physical traits such as eye color or hair color that we inherit from our parents and can’t control. Other physical characteristics are determined by our genes but can be influenced by our environment. For example, you might inherit the genes to be tall, but you need to get the right amount of energy and calcium for your bones to grow to fully realize your height potential.

Scientists agree that we also inherit around 30-60% of our personality traits. Characteristics like cooperativeness or empathy seem to be linked to genes, but many other traits are learned as we develop and grow into adults. Resiliency is absolutely one of the traits we can learn, even as adults.

Resiliency describes how well we can bounce back from adversity. It does not mean that adverse or traumatic life events do not affect us—part of being human is that those experiences in life can leave deep emotional scars or make us experience intense emotional pain. However, the more resilient we are, the better we can cope with these events. So how can we improve our resiliency?

The first important thing to understand is that like strengthening your muscles, becoming more resilient takes time. It won’t happen overnight, and it will require focus and effort. Here are three areas you can focus on to strengthen your resiliency.

Find purpose. Whether it’s setting and achieving goals or volunteering your time and services to those less fortunate, having a purpose for moving through your days is key. Giving your time can help you build your self-worth and can help you feel empowered to act when you most need it. The same goes for goal setting—achieving even “small” goals on a daily basis helps build us up.

Think positively. When faced with a stressful situation, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and become paralyzed with the fear of failure. Remind yourself how you have navigated stressful situations in the past. You wouldn’t be here today if you hadn’t done that successfully.

Practice self-care. We see this term frequently, but it’s actually a thing. When we experience stress, we might consider it an emotional situation because we experience feelings of fear or anxiety. But the stress response is as much physical as it is emotional. Practicing self-care means you ensure you are eating healthily—and that means healthy foods but also healthy eating patterns. In tough times you might be tempted to skip meals, but eating less can add to the physical stress your body is trying to manage. Similarly, you might not feel like you have time to be active, but being active is one of the best ways to help manage the stress response. If you do not have time to complete your normal routine,  do less. Even getting out of the situation for a 10-15 minute walk will help.

We can’t always control the things that lead to stress and anxiety, but we can get better at how we cope and manage those situations.

With a PhD in Exercise Physiology, Jonathan Dugas spends his days thinking about how we can help more people be more active.  With four Ironman finishes and 13 marathons and counting, he’ll see you out on the road.

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