Off the Couch

Emotional immune system

One of the best ways to think about resilience is it’s like looking after our emotional immune system.  Just like our physical immunity, we all need to actively make sure we are looking after our emotional health as best we can.  And as Wallace and I talked about last time, their are some clear and empirically supported things we can do to facilitate this.  (Click here for this weeks interview about the emotional immune system).

Mindfulness, and generally increasing our emotional awareness is important.  It’s also showing results for the emotional health and resilience of children as you can see here (click here for link), specifically increasing resilience to depression and stress.

Some people are also really good at re framing negative events, so as to find meaning in them.  Like when a few months after a break up we think to ourselves, “that was the best thing that could’ve happened” or thinking about how we can learn something from a negative or painful situation.  And this is a skill we can learn, with practice.

There is also a massive body of literature about the positive effects of exercise on resilience.  Not only does aerobic exercise decrease the risk for depression and anxiety, it also improves our attention, planning, decision making and memory.  Recent studies also seem to suggest that aerobic exercise also release specific chemicals that promote growth and repair of neurons in the brain, reversing the effects of stress and the “stress hormone” cortisol.

Another clear factor is what is known as “stress inoculation.”  Essentially this recognizes that it is possible to avoid a lot of stress in our lives, but actually we need some stress to build our resilience.  Just like getting vaccinated, tackling realistic and manageable challenges builds our capacity to cope with stress and our emotional resilience.  This great little video from the Scientific American “Instant Egghead series says it best:

Next interview, in two weeks Wallace and I will talk about the last factor that is vital to resilience.  People.  In the meantime, get a little bit stressed.  It’s good for you.

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