I often get asked why some people are more resilient and handle stress more easily and readily than other people do. Many people know that one friend that seems to be able to take on the world, scrimp on sleep and seems to bounce back instantly from a stressful event like my favorite character in Empire Records who was sickening perfect until you find out that she’s actually a speed freak!
While most of us struggle with keeping stress at bay and maintaining balance even when we are ‘doing everything right’, many people also ask if there is a way to become more resilient and better at coping with stress on a brain level? The answer (thankfully) is Yes!
What is Resiliency?
Before we can understand why some people are more resilient than others, we have to know what ‘resiliency’ actually means. Resilience is how well you can properly adapt or change in the face of stress and adversity. It is how well your brain and body are able to bounce back from difficulties, everyday stresses and annoyances that build up over time and start to ‘bog us down.’
Because modern life is filled with these constant low grade stresses and our brains are constantly ‘on’ and connected to email, social media and work, it is more important than ever to be able to adapt to stress.
Good resiliency is protective against major depression and burnout syndrome which is a growing problem in all western countries and affects not just job performance but also overall life satisfaction and health. Burnout Syndrome is the number one issue I see my corporate clients facing that can threaten their careers, health and happiness.
New Research on the Resiliency Brain Protein
Luckily, research has proven than we all have a resiliency factor built into our brains and we all have the ability to adapt to life’s stresses. Being resilient doesn’t mean that you never get sad or experience life’s ups and downs but resilience does give you the capacity to recover from the lows and reclaim your zest for life without falling prey to depression, fatigue, insomnia and constantly feeling overwhelmed. Some of us are naturally more resilient while others have to ‘work harder’ at bouncing back from stress.
The Brain Protein That Protects Against Stress
A new study published in the journal Nature may explain why and it has to do with a single protein called beta catenin in the brain that determines how well your brain copes with stress. It may be the protein in the brain behind the ‘bounce back’ factor and it is called B-catenin. Researchers have now shown that levels of this protein in the brains’ reward centre called the Nucleus Accumbens, can predict how resilient a person is to stress.
Beta Catenin and Resliency to Stress and Depression
The researchers are working on the beta catenin protein in mice at the moment. 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 beta catenin not only got stressed more but started to show signs of depression after exposure to chronic stress.
What’s more, they found that by blocking the beta catenin protein, perfecty well adapted happy 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.
We now need more studies in humans so we can see what this means for us and whether this protein can be used to treat and even prevent depression and poor ‘resiliency’ to stress in humans, so depression never ’takes hold’ in the brain to begin with in those people who are high risk.
How to Make Your Brain More Resilient
While more research is still needed on how much beta catenin will play a role in helping humans become more resilient, there are 3 simple ways you can become more resilient to stress by building ‘resiliency’ neural networks or positive ‘brain patterns’ by using these 3 simple steps:
- Get 30 minutes more sleep before midnight. Lack of sleep is one of the biggest factors that affects your brain’s ability to adapt to stress and therefore your resiliency levels and just catching up on sleep debt by sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t work to restore the brains ‘sleep debt’ effectively
- Practice activating your Brain’s Relaxation Response for 10 minutes each day. Your brain’s inbuilt resiliency mechanism is called the relaxation response, discovered by harvard doctor and researcher Dr. Herbert Benson (link to benson tech). The easiest ways to activate it are with simple relaxation techniques or breathing exercises.
- Start meditating for just 10 minutes a day. It changes your brain profoundly on an MRI in only 8 weeks for total beginners, especially the frontal brain regions (like the prefrontal cortex or pfc) key for improving resiliency, and emotional regulation called the prefrontal cortex. References here and here.
Just committing to even one of these steps will lead to a happier, calmer and more resilient you.