Find guidance and tips here about how to maintain and improve your mental well-being and resilience both at work and at home.
Stress is a feature of most adults’ daily lives, but there are times stress overflows its boundaries, making it harder to manage. Think: a job loss, ill or aging family members, financial upheaval. That’s when we need to draw on reserves of resilience to get through. But where does mental resilience come from, and can we nurture it?
We can. According to Steven M. Southwick, M.D., professor of psychiatry, PTSD, and resilience at Yale University School of Medicine, and coauthor with Dennis Charney, MD, of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, resilience is “the complex product of genetic, psychological, biological, social, and spiritual factors, and it’s something that can be trained and taught.”
Here are tips to boost mental well-being and strengthen your ability to cope with stressors, big and small:
- Stay connected: Many of us instinctively respond to stress by looking inward instead of outward, but our social networks can help. That’s why nurturing social and familial connections at all times can help during difficult times, says Dr. Southwick. If you’re feeling isolated, reach out. Join a book club, take an adult-education class, or call a good friend.
- Focus on what’s in your control: You can’t compel your boss to act in ways that make your day less stressful – but you can control how you react, says Christy Whitman, life coach and author of Quantum Success: 7 Essential Laws for a Thriving, Joyful, and Prosperous Relationship with Work and Money. “Your own reactions and behaviors are the only things over which you have any influence,” she says.
- Remind yourself of the good things. Stressful times make you feel like everything is terrible, but that’s usually not all true; it’s possible to still feel good even if what’s happening around you doesn’t feel that great, says Whitman. “Zero in on what’s working in your life and what you’re grateful for,” such as a healthy family.
- Don’t power through; power down: You may think you’ll build mental toughness by putting your head down and just muscling through a thicket of stress. While muscling through may be necessary to build resilience, you also need to give your brain and psyche time to shut down, the way you might power down your computer at night. If you’ve been tying yourself in knots trying to research assisted living for your aging parents, switch to planning your next vacation for an hour or so. The problem will still be there when you return.
- Exercise daily: Whatever type of workout you can do regularly will help you feel stronger and more resilient not just physically, but also mentally, says Dr. Southwick. “Exercise helps you modulate your stress response.”
- Nurture your physical health: Chronic mental and emotional stresses have proven detrimental effects on your body’s well-being. Try to get a decent amount of sleep, stay well-hydrated, and eat healthfully. One simple trick to try: a daily dose of sunshine. A 2016 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that people who spent some time in the sunshine had a better ability to manage emotional distress.