Learn to be more resilient
Build resilience with behavioral and cognitive strategies
Resilience refers to the process of responding positively to adversities, traumas, threats, or significant stress. Psychologists increasingly find that higher levels of resilience predict lower levels of anxiety, psychological distress, and depression. But can we learn to be more resilient? Researchers in Australia recently conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 11 controlled trials and randomized controlled trials of resilience training. These studies showed that mindfulness-based, cognitive-behavioral-based, and mixed mindfulness – cognitive-behavioral interventions had moderate effect sizes. The mixed interventions had the largest effect size (0.51 on a scale of 0-1.00). The researchers commented that persons entering highly stressful professions, such as law enforcement, fire and rescue, and medicine, would do well to receive resilience training early in their careers. The rest of us can also build resilience and likely improve our overall health and well-being.
A recent review featured 15 strategies that build resilience by changing neural pathways. The authors divided the strategies into behavioral and cognitive categories. The behavioral strategies (learnable behaviors and habits) included three types: reducing fear and stress (exposure and reconsolidation, active avoidance, controlling the stressor, stress inoculation), boosting physical health (sleep, exercise, dietary restriction), and connecting socially (social support, gratitude).
The cognitive strategies (learnable cognitive/linguistic) included two types: emotional regulation (emotional disclosure, affect labeling, cognitive reappraisal) and cognitive training (cognitive-bias modification, mindfulness training, cognitive therapy). The authors also identified three mind-set factors (positive expectation, growth mindset, self-affirmation) that complement the strategies to create neuroplasticity and build resilience. Developing positive expectations and a growth mindset combined with self-affirmation can create a more receptive personal environment for the above strategies to be effective. For a particular person, some of the 15 strategies will work better than others. Thus, the authors suggest employing a variety of strategies to build resilience.
Interestingly, the 15 strategies map closely on the nine healthy lifestyle choices found in my recent book, Choose Better, Live Better. In other words, people who embrace the nine healthy lifestyle choices and change their minds resourcefully can expect to develop high resilience and to deal effectively with life’s challenges. Details about the nine behavioral strategies follow.
In recent years, researchers have devoted increasing attention to understand resilience and promote it in the workplace. Employers have multiple reasons to offer resilience training to their employees. However, most interventions that build resilience have occurred in group settings, which impose logistical and cost constraints. A recent study used an online approach to build resilience in a workplace setting. Over 600 employees participated in the meQuilibrium program for an average of 9 months. The program featured 40 modules based on positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness.
A pre-intervention evaluation identified “gaps” in participant’s resilience profile. Each participant received a customized suite of coaching and trainings to build resilience skills in the realms of body, mind, connection, and surroundings. The meQuilibrfium program showed small (1 percent) but statistically significant increases in resilience over the course of the program, along with significant 10 and 7 percent reductions in stress and body complaints. Interestingly, participants with low initial resilience showed greater gains in resilience during the program compared to those with high initial resilience. Of note, the average participant spent a mere 10 minutes per month actively engaged in the program. Unsurprisingly, resilience scores increased from pre- to post-intervention as the number of hours engaged in the program increased. This study suggests that an online resilience program may help employees build resilience and reduce stress and body complaints.