Can you improve your mental strength and resilience?
Life throws us curveballs when we least expect them and there are many situations we may have to deal with that will test our feelings of being able to cope.
Whether it’s the breakdown of a relationship, a job that doesn’t give satisfaction or a health concern, it can seem hard to steer clear of drama and worry at times. Even if everything is going smoothly, we’ve all experienced how something like a global pandemic can turn our plans upside down.
The challenging days will pass though, and—while it might seem difficult—it’s important to focus on the fact that things will get better, and to rely upon your own mental strength and resilience to help you while you are waiting.
Mental strength and resilience – what’s the difference?
Mental strength and resilience are closely related, but there is a difference. Resilience is the ability to cope with a situation as it arises, but this doesn’t necessarily make you mentally strong. You might be able to cope—but are you doing so in a positive way, rather than simply gritting your teeth and waiting for the moment to pass?
Mental strength is the capacity of an individual to deal effectively with stressors, pressures and challenges and perform to the best of their ability, irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves.1
The difference is a subtle but important one. It’s the distinction between surviving and thriving.
Building mental strength is fundamental to living your best life. It helps us have meaningful social connections and gives us the confidence to try new things, as well as the coping mechanisms to handle whatever life sends our way. The best part is that wherever you are currently, you can always work to develop your mental strength further. Check out our top 3 tips for better mental strength:
- Learn to think positively
It might seem easier said than done, but even if it doesn’t come as naturally as you would like, you can learn to think more positively. You only have to look at Navy SEALS or Olympians to see what the power of the mind can help them achieve. The first step to positive thinking is to recognize when you’re being negative. Don’t beat yourself up over it but acknowledge it and then work to change it. Rather than thinking ‘I might fail’, try telling yourself that you might succeed—but that even if you don’t, as long as you try your best then it really doesn’t matter. Often, by simply deciding you are going to feel something, it becomes easier to actually then feel it. This is known as manifestation—decide to think positive thoughts and they will come. If you wake up in the morning feeling fine and people start telling you throughout the day that you look unwell, by the evening you will probably start to feel that way. Likewise, if you constantly tell yourself to be happy, you are more likely to manifest that emotion and actually be happy.
- Meditate and take time for yourself
In a busy world where we’ve all got responsibilities for others, it’s important to also allow yourself to slow down and focus inwards. Meditation is a great way to calm the mind and allow yourself to be present in the moment; to reset and face the day with a fresh and more positive viewpoint. Research has even shown that meditation and mindfulness can reverse the DNA that leads to depression on a molecular level,2 which is pretty incredible! Ivana Buric, from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement explained that “millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.” In her research, she explains that activities like meditation leave a molecular signature in our cells, which actually reverses the effect of stress or anxiety by changing how our genes are expressed.
- Take time to move your body too
Your body is as important as your mind when it comes to mental strength. Physical and mental health go hand-in-hand and if one suffers, the other can too. Exercise has been shown in studies to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain—the ‘feel good’ chemicals,3 which can reduce depression and help give mental clarity to focus on things in a clear and calm way.
Embedding resilience in children
Children, in particular, are strongly influenced by the actions and behaviors of those around them. They’re like little sponges soaking up what they see and what they learn from us, which is why it’s so important to work on our own mental strength in order to help them develop theirs.
Children learn from others so it’s a good idea to expose them to people who will care for them, have their best interests at heart and be a positive influence on them—friends, family members, teachers and coaches might all fall into this category. Let them know that they are not alone in life and there are people who have their best interests at heart to turn to if ever they need support.
It’s also important to give children opportunities to learn and discover on their own, whether through creative play or strategic play—board games are a great way to teach impulse control and the need to be patient and take turns, as well as giving an opportunity for mental flexibility and changing ways of thinking for a better outcome if a situation suddenly changes.
Don’t be scared to ask for help
Building mental strength takes time and practice, and if you’re struggling, it’s important to know you are not alone. Life can be tough and finding it hard to navigate is nothing to be ashamed of. If you’re feeling unsure as to whether you can cope, it’s always best to reach out and talk to someone about your feelings, whether it’s a friend or family member, or a professional. If you find yourself feeling sad or angry, irritable, stressed or easily frustrated, these are all signs that you might not be coping and should seek help.