The Connection Between Resilience & Mental Health

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Mental health challenges affect people of all ages, race, ethnicity and socio-economic status. As a Veteran who’s struggled with mental health, I know this to be true. Building resilience can help.

Growing up as a working class kid in the San Francisco Bay Area, I struggled with addiction and substance abuse. Through the love and support of many great people I strengthened my capacity to face challenges, found a new way of living and prioritized my mental health. Today, as a Mindful Littles Wellness Coach I work with students, educators and corporate leaders. I continue to build my own resiliency right alongside those I serve.

What Is Resilience?

So how are mental health and resilience related? You may have heard someone in your family say, “you just need to toughen up” or “you’re too sensitive.” Both phrases were directed at me as far back as I can remember. While I believe we all can benefit from developing a level of thickness to our emotional skin, it’s not as simple as “toughening up.” Rather it’s about building resilience

Resilience is typically defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, a mark of toughness and grit. It can also describe one’s overall well-being. Being resilient is a sign you adapt well in times of adversity, stress or trauma. This doesn’t mean you don’t experience difficult emotions; instead, it means you’re able to manage those difficult emotions with compassion and self care.

Outdated thinking suggests we all operate with a genetic predisposition to a certain temperament or emotional set-point. However, there is a wealth of current research showing resiliency can develop and strengthen over time.

Mental Health Changes

Mental health is, and should always be viewed as, a continuum. Think of it like running a marathon. It’s an emotional, cognitive and energetic endurance event. We will have periods of high performance, low performance, the inability to perform at all, and any combination of the three.

Just as our physical health fluctuates, so too will our mental health. We work to strengthen our bodies to become better able to withstand fatigue and infection. We can also work to improve and stabilize our mental health.

Ways To Approach Mindfulness

I have two approaches to mindfulness practice. The first one is a more disciplined daily meditation practice. Learning to meditate helped me observe my thoughts in a non-judgmental way. I became aware  I had been operating, unconsciously, with a negative self-bias for many years, even before I entered the military in 2001. Once I brought awareness to these negative thought patterns, I was better able to counter them by building my resiliency. 

The other approach is a more informal noticing of my breath, senses and change in mood and perception throughout my day. A good example of a mindful habit I rely on is when I make my morning coffee. Once the hot water hits the fresh grounds, I bend down and take a few deep breaths to fully appreciate the complex notes of caramel, citrus and chocolate aromas. In this moment, I also access gratitude for the long journey the beans take from pod to cup and all the different people and actions that contribute to making my morning ritual a reality. 

Well-Being Is a Work In Progress

Full disclosure: it took a few years and a lot of persistence to make mindfulness part of my life. But I’m forever grateful for every awkward meditation and difficult conversation I experienced on the way. Life and its endless challenges can be viewed simply as a series of amazing opportunities to learn and grow. I believe each moment is worth investigating, an opportunity to relate to yourself and the world around you. My personal evolution towards wholeness and well-being is a constant work in progress rooted in practice.

Try This

Here are a few practices to help you cultivate mindfulness and resilience:

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