You’re either one or the other – the person who seems to be able to take on the world, scrimp on sleep, bounce back instantly from stress, and stay ever-resilient… or you’re like a large chunk of the population who just can’t seem to cope. At all. In fact, according to the largest stress survey conducted by YouGov, a whopping 74% of people have felt so stressed in the last year alone that they have been overwhelmed, felt unable to deal with everything and sought treatment (1).
Which begs the question – why is there that one friend who can do it all, while you sit on the sidelines worrying about every da*n thing? Well, it’s time to stop plaguing yourself with internal hatred because here’s a secret – there is a way for you to handle stress more mindfully and boost your confidence, power and inner-strength along the way – studies show that becoming more resilient in life all comes down to one little protein.
What is resilience?
Before we can understand why some people are more resilient than others, we have to know what ‘resilience’ actually means. Resiliency is how well you can properly adapt or adjust when faced with stress or adversity. It basically is the measure to how well your brain and body are able to bounce back from difficulties and everyday stresses that build up over time and start to bring you down.
Because our day-to-day is filled with these constant triggers (work, social life, family, responsibilities etc) and our brains are constantly ‘on’ and connected to email and social media, it’s more important than ever to be able to relieve stress. Good resiliency can be a huge help to overall wellbeing as it can help you avoid symptoms like depression, fatigue, insomnia and burnout syndrome.
Even though some of us are naturally more resilient than others who may struggle when recovering from stress, research has shown that we all have 'built-in' resilience to some degree.
How the brain responds to stress
Various studies like the one published in the International Journal of Science explain why a single protein in the brain called ‘beta catenin' determines how well your brain copes with stress. Researchers have shown that levels of this protein in the brain’s reward centre, the Nucleus Accumbens, can predict how resilient a person is to stress (2).
At the moment, researchers are working on the beta catenin protein in mice. They found that the mice with lots of active beta catenin in the Nucleus Accumbens were protected from stress, but that those with low levels of it not only got more stressed, they started to show signs of depression after exposure to chronic triggers.
What’s more, they found that by blocking the beta catenin protein, perfectly well-adapted mice became depressed and when they turned this protein on in mice who were lacking it, they went from depressed to normal and able to handle stress and adapt properly.
Hopefully, the next few years will show huge progress when it comes to reasearch in humans, so that we can then understand what this protein can mean for us all – whether this protein can be used to treat, and even prevent, depression and poor resiliency to stress, so that depression never 'takes hold' in the brain.
How to build resilience to stress in life
However, while we wait for the professionals to conduct their research, there are simple ‘brain-teasers’, or cognitive homework if you will, that can have a similar effect to the protein and therefore help you build resilience to stress naturally:
1. Create a bedtime ritual
Lack of sleep has always been a form of torture, and so it’s crucial to establish a healthy sleep pattern in order to manage your cortisol levels and stop stress from fluctuating throughout your day. Don’t wait until the weekend to ‘catch up’ on sleep, make a conscious effort to create a nightly bedtime ritual for yourself by including magnesium (either through food or in a bath), getting into bed early with a good book, or journal. Stay away from digital devices which can upset your sleep by disrupting your natural melatonin production.
2. Activate your relaxation response
For 10 minutes every day, practice activating your brain’s relaxation response – the inbuilt resiliency mechanism that is prompted by simple relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, as discovered by Dr. Herbert Benson (3). During a Harvard lecture, Dr. Benson guided students through a series of steps designed to slowly relax their bodies and minds. First, they sat in a comfortable position. Then, they focused on a single word or phrase (such as ‘calm’). After the 10 minutes, the students were so relaxed some were sloping off of their auditorium seats.
3. Include meditation into your routine
Did you know that after 8 weeks of meditating, your brain can profoundly change on an MRI scan especially in the frontal brain regions? Those are the key areas for improving resiliency and emotional regulation (4) (5). Download some guided meditations, attend a group class or simply sit in silence with yourself noticing your breath. The more you increase your time in silence, the more you will have an impact on your ability to deal with stress. If you’re a complete beginner, start with a couple of minutes, then build to 5, then 10, then 15 and so on. You’ll begin to notice the difference.
So if you suffer from stress and are looking for natural home remedies to help you relieve the symptoms and burnout, try committing to even one of these solutions in order to lead you to a happier, calmer more resilient you.