How to Be Resilient: Two Psychiatrists Help Us Cultivate This Trait

When we began our study, we assumed that resilience was rare and resilient people were somehow special, perhaps genetically gifted. It turns out, we were wrong. Resilience is common and can be witnessed all around us. Even better, we learned that everyone can learn and train to be more resilient. The key involves knowing how to harness stress and use it to our advantage. After all, stress is necessary for growth. Without it the mind and body weaken and atrophy. Steven M. Southwick, psychiatrist, in The Huffington Post

Trauma experts Steven M. Southwick and Dr. Dennis S. Charney, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, are the brains behind this year’s Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. In other words: how to bend, not break.

The authors conducted their own research, studied important research from the last couple decades, and interviewed many survivors of severe trauma. From this work they came up with 10 factors that help people recover most effectively:

  •  Optimism
  •  Flexibility
  •  Core value system
  •  Faith
  •  Positive role models
  •  Social support
  •  Physical fitness
  •  Cognitive strength
  •  Facing fears
  •  Finding meaning in struggles

Southwick states in USA Weekend that a couple of these—social support and optimism—are particularly powerful.

In an interview in Time, Southwick says of the former: “It looks like social isolation has as powerful an effect on longevity as smoking and [heavy drinking] and lack of exercise. It’s very bad for you. There’s lots of neat connections between social connectedness and ability to handle stress.”

And of the latter, states Charney: “It’s important to note that it’s realistic optimism we’re talking about. You need to have a very clear eyed view of the challenges you’re facing.”

(On the opposite end of the spectrum, an example of realistic pessimism? Jim Gaffigan, comedian: “If there was an award for most pessimistic, I probably wouldn’t even be nominated.”)

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