5 Ways to Build Mental Strength and Resilience
What does it mean to be mentally strong? When it comes to tough times, it seems like some people can get through them no matter what gets thrown their way, whether that’s through a seemingly-superhuman ability to remain unflappable, or sheer grit. We might admire someone’s ability to remain calm in a crisis. We might envy those who don’t seem to get so knocked over by life’s ups and downs. We might wish we, too, had such strength of character, such a hardy or buoyant personality, or just the ability to better cope with challenge and change. And here’s some great news: resilience is something we can actually build and nurture. Developing mental strength won’t protect us from hardship, but it can help us bounce back from tough times. Here are five tips for building more resilience and mental strength.
1. Witness your emotions
Being mentally strong isn’t about being immune to uncomfortable emotions like anger, sadness, or fear. These are human emotions that we all experience, and they can provide important information about our needs. However, we can work on managing how we respond to these emotions, and with more resilience comes less emotional reactivity. This starts with building emotional intelligence, so start tuning into how you are feeling and naming it. Once we get better at recognizing that we are stressed or upset (and perhaps understanding why), the earlier we can intervene with a healthy outlet – like physical movement or a good cry. There are tools for building more vocabulary and understanding around emotions, such as the Emotion Wheel.
2. Explore your shame
Getting comfortable with your emotional landscape also requires some examination into shame. Shame is the little voice in your head telling you that how you feel, what you do, or even who you are, is “wrong”. Emotionally resilient people are accepting of themselves, understanding of the fact they aren’t perfect, and rooted in an internal safety that can withstand the knocks and blows of external circumstances. Working through shame strengthens that internal rooting. Be curious about any self-criticism or resentment coming up. Who are you trying to please? How would you feel if you made a mistake or were less than perfect? How would your most compassionate side respond to that criticism?
3. Forgive yourself
People who are mentally strong don’t linger too much on what’s happened in the past, and don’t spend too much time concerned with the future. Forgive yourself for anything you feel guilt or shame around and accept that whatever is in the past cannot be changed. This emotional baggage is heavy, and life is too short for that. Similarly, be forgiving with others where you can. Be protective of your boundaries, but remember that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, because we are human, and we are all on our own path.
4. Soothe your nervous system
We live with multiple levels of stress that the human body hasn’t figured out how to manage yet, from the overload of information on the screens we are constantly exposed to, to seemingly endless work deadlines, to fitting into social norms that can restrain our natural needs and desires. When our nervous systems exist in a heightened state of activation, we’re more susceptible to emotional and mental overwhelm. Taking opportunities to calm the nervous system can help keep us more grounded and clear of mind. Establish regular self-care practices and activities that feel good and relaxing for your body, mind and soul.
5. Build healthy habits
It takes 21 days to build a new habit, so just a few weeks of concerted effort can set you up with habits that support mental strength. Focus on the four pillars of health: Sleep, nutrition, exercise and relaxation. This could mean figuring out an evening routine that supports quality sleep, a breakfast regimen that fuels you up for the day, prioritizing a daily walk, and taking time out every week to enjoy a hobby. Enough consistency in these areas will build the neural pathways in the brain that make them second nature – and greater resilience will be a happy outcome of your natural instinct to look after yourself in these ways.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals; Biological and Psychological Perspectives of Resilience: Is It Possible to Improve Stress Resistance?
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