Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home ScienceHealth Keeping Resilient in these Hard Times

Keeping Resilient in these Hard Times

Online Science Editor, Vincent Plant, discusses the psychology behind resilience and whether it is possible to develop it.
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Keeping Resilient in these Hard Times

Online Science Editor, Vincent Plant, discusses the psychology behind resilience and whether it is possible to develop it.

Resilience is a very human trait. After his defeat by Edward I, Robert the Bruce was allegedly inspired to carry on after watching a spider doggedly trying to spin a web between two roofbeams. Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president after 27 years in jail. It is a response to hardship that allows us to recover. But why do some people have more resilience than others and how can we boost it?

Over time, the body and brain will come to think of these stresses as increasingly something they can handle, building up resilience as a result. In fact, stress only becomes a problem once the load no longer feels manageable.

Although it can be learned at any time, the skill is best developed at a young age when the brain is most flexible. This would suggest that there is an evolutionary mechanism to its origin in humans. 30 to 50% of differences in reaction to adversity can be predicted by genetics, although there are environmental as well as genetic factors, in particular confiding in a trusted individual.

Resilience arises when a child is exposed to stress that is manageable but still real. Over time, the body and brain will come to think of these stresses as increasingly something they can handle, building up resilience as a result. In fact, stress only becomes a problem once the load no longer feels manageable. This suggests that exposure to levels of stress that a child feels can be overcome allows them to build up resilience. Challenge, evidently, helps to foster this ability to bounce back.

30 to 50% of differences in reaction to adversity can be predicted by genetics, although there are environmental as well as genetic factors, in particular confiding in a trusted individual.

The challenges we face today are, however, different from and larger than those our ancestors faced. James Martin from Oxford University lists 17 obstacles that we face as a society. Many of these, such as climate change and nuclear or biological warfare, are problems with vast, almost unimaginable, scale which can seem insurmountable. These issues have a real impact- 44% of Americans are pessimistic about the future. Resilience is clearly still needed.

Time magazine lists several tips for fostering resilience. Social support appears to be crucial- some POWs in WWII kept going by tapping on the walls of their cell to each other to communicate, knowing they weren’t alone in their suffering. Keeping the body and brain in good condition, by exercise and learning, contribute to fostering resilience. Lastly, there is the importance of having meaning in your life- something which acts as a greater purpose pushing you through the difficult moments.

Resilience arose over evolutionary time when the challenges of modern life did not yet exist. And yet, the mechanism it created can still be employed today.

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