What makes one person able to bounce back from challenges while recovery seems painfully out of reach for others? Psychological resilience, which is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, varies widely from person to person. But why? Is resilience a trait that exists innately with little room for intentional development, or is it a skill that can be learned?
Recent research suggests that it might not be exclusively one or the other. Emotional flexibility is a muscle that can be built by creating new habits, but there may be an even deeper source that we can tap into. The brain itself may have a more significant impact than we realize on our adaptability in crisis. A brain that experiences high levels of functional connectivity, or the ability to appropriately relay neural information to other parts of the brain, is positively associated with higher levels of mental and emotional resilience.
Supporting this degree of high-level brain function, particularly in combination with forming new behavioral habits that encourage resilience, is a critical part of developing our mental and emotional capacity. While that can sound like an overwhelming task, there are many things we do naturally throughout the day that impact our brain’s connectivity. Smoking, chronic stress, and lack of quality sleep all have a negative correlation with our brain’s ability to communicate with itself and the rest of the body. It is also decreased by environmental and situational factors like poverty, lack of education, and a family history of drug and alcohol addiction.
For every lifestyle choice that can harm our brain’s ability to function, however, there is an alternative option. We can choose to orient our habits around the support of our mental and emotional health.
The process of learning activates neurons in the brain that would otherwise go unused, which increases their plasticity and capacity for connection over time. This suggestion is particularly useful if you learn to do something new that also has a physical component. Learning how to do things like knit or play an instrument can be a great way to bolster the connections between the left and right sides of your brain, kickstarting both your creative and procedural centers. However, even activities that are purely mental in nature, such as reading, can increase the connection power of your brain over time.
In today’s cultural climate, we are almost perpetually engaged in communication with others. However, that communication is more likely than ever to take place on an electronic device. It also increasingly occurs in short bursts, rather than in the form of sustained social engagement. Face-to-face conversation, however, is a highly stimulating activity for the brain. It requires one to actively listen, visually assess body language and social cues, and respond appropriately in the moment. This utilizes and reinforces the connection between parts of the brain, leading to increased function over time.
There are several key ways that physical movement can improve brain health. Vigorous exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, providing it with the nourishment it needs to function properly. It also improves motor skills, memory, and the quality of the connective tissues in the brain. People who engage in exercise regularly tend to experience a higher level of cognitive clarity, more control over their stress responses, and an increased ability to synthesize creative solutions.
Anytime we can utilize both the creative and logical sides of our brain in tandem, its communication pathways are stimulated. Creating a goal and developing a plan to achieve it strikes this balance. As a side benefit, this can also serve to increase life satisfaction and decrease stress by creating a focal point for growth and personal direction.
Brain health is at the core of a healthy psychological life, including our ability to recover from challenging situations with positivity and commitment to forward motion. We encourage you to look for ways to support your brain function today, knowing that you’ll feel the positive effects in every part of your life. The BrainTap system can be a huge help on this journey! If you would like to build your sense of emotional and mental resilience, take a look at the bundles we offer. We’d love to provide you with a practical companion as you pursue greater internal adaptability.
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