Resilience, one of the most important terms in health and, certainly until recently is a term not discussed enough – not with any specificity anyway. Ultimately, when we are seeking improvement in our health, at some level, we are talking about improving our resilience. But a deeper understanding of the term may help us create a more comprehensive/holistic and effective program.
What Does Resilience Mean?
Resilience is most often defined as our ‘ability to bounce back from an adverse event’. This however is only part of its true definition. We can infact break resiliency in to four segments: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Physical Resilience: The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress
Mental Resilience: The ability to generate positive emotion and the ability to recover from negative emotion.
Emotional Resilience: The ability to generate positive emotion and the ability to recover from negative emotion.
Spiritual Resilience: Concerned with the internal life of mind and spirit and its association with being in the world. It implies a capability for a deep understanding of existential questions and insight into multiple levels of consciousness. In addition to self-awareness, it implies awareness of our relationship to the transcendent, to each other, to the earth and all beings.
How Can We Enhance Resilience?
Firstly the good news is that we can! And there are numerous ways we can do this.
In today’s post I am going to mention some strategies from a physical perspective, while bearing in mind that enhancing one of the four above areas, will likely influence the other three to some degree also.
In a paper entitled ‘Acquired Resilience‘ the authors discuss how certain types of stressors, at the right dose and duration, may induce resilience. This is in alignment with the saying “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”. The actual term for this is eustress, aka ‘good stress’. The stresses the authors discuss in the paper, that may induce resilience include:
Ordinary toxins found in food (e.g resveratrol)
Physical stressors – exercise and hot/cold exposure.
Hypoxia – induced by things like exercise.
The mechanisms by which low-level stress upregulates resilience have been studied intensively.
So our strategies to enhance resilience may include:
- Getting outside and exposing our eyes and skin to sunlight (responsibly). This is particularly important to do at sunrise and sunset.
- Consuming a diet that includes phytochemicals/phytonutrients. Meaning eat a diet that includes a broad range of plants (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses).
- Experiment with some fasting (check out my recent podcast episode with Dr. Joseph Antoun on fasting and fasting-mimicking diet).
- Stay active.
- Jump in the sauna (I have a category dedicated on my blog to sauna therapy), and have a cold shower on the regular. Read my blog on the benefits of cold exposure here.
The authors highlight an interesting concept that many people have discussed over the years:
The fading of resilience, we argue, is a major component of the cause of aging, including features of aging such as sarcopenia, cancer, slowness of wound healing, slowness in recovery from fatigue, and more. Understanding of acquired resilience may, we argue, open pathways for the maintenance of good health in the later decades of human life.
There are so many things to explore within the concept of resilience and I’m really excited to share them with you. For example, Rick Hanson in his great book ‘Resilient‘ starts by talking about mindfulness and self-compassion as foundational elements of resilience:
Mindfulness of your past helps you to know yourself better in the present, and to be more effective at taking care of your need in the future.
How can you possibly be resilient if you’re not taking care of your needs?
Until next time, sending you love and peace,