Building Resilience is as Simple as Breathing

From a mental health perspective, resilience is an incredibly important characteristic. It’s the ability to recover from trauma, setbacks and stress. We all have it to some degree, otherwise a single disappointment would send us crawling back to bed, never to return.

In recent years, there’s been a major push to build resilience in children. That’s fantastic. If you can develop resilience when you’re young, you may be able to avoid the worst consequences of the setbacks you’ll face in life. But with most efforts focused on kids, it may seem like it’s too late to build up your own resilience once you’re already grown.

Thankfully, that’s not true.

A recent study published in Biological Psychiatry shows that employing a simple method can improve your resilience even as an adult: paying attention to your body.

PsychCentral has details of the study, which examined participants’ responses when a mask closed as they wore it, making it difficult to breathe.

Highly resilient participants had a great deal of anticipatory stress leading up to their mask closing. The fMRI showed they were paying close attention to what would happen next, but when their breathing did become difficult, there was little activity in the parts of the brain that increase physiological arousal. It’s as if their minds said, “Something is going to happen. Okay, it’s not a big deal.”

On the other hand, the low resilient participants had little anticipatory stress. They weren’t closely monitoring their bodily signals before breathing became difficult in their masks. Once it did, they overreacted, activating all the parts of the brain which increase physiological arousal. This kind of reaction makes it difficult for the body and brain to return to normal after a stressful event has passed.

The article goes on to detail the best way to build the sort of mindfulness that allows us to pay attention to our bodily signals even in moments of stress. It comes down to spending a few minutes every day paying attention to our breath.

Given those potential benefits to resilience, mindful breathing sounds better than ever.

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