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Hardship and the mind-body connection: the effects of low resilience

September 12, 2022 - 19 min read


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How does resilience affect a person’s life?

How does resilience affect a person’s life?

The impacts of low resilience

The effects of low resilience on your health

Consequences of low personal resilience at work

Reframing negative thoughts

The road to resilience

What does it mean to be resilient? 

The answer will be different for everyone. We each have our own experiences and overcome challenges unique to our lives. No one walks through life hoping to lose their jobs, have a life-threatening illness, or live through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But, when adversity strikes, we find a way through it.

Perhaps you’re currently going through something difficult right now. It may have slashed your confidence, leaving you uncertain about the future. But you’re more than capable of resilience. Humans didn’t survive thousands of years by being non-adaptable. You carry those skills within you — you just have to let them shine.

If you don’t, you put yourself at risk of serious health consequences. Mental and physical health are intimately linked, and letting adversity get to you can cause everything from depressive symptoms to heartburn.

It’s important to understand the mind-body connection and how it plays into the effects of low resilience.

Once you do, we can work together to find a path forward. You can build resilience.


How does resilience affect a person’s life?

Resilience is a combination of protective factors, including your ability to withstand, overcome, and bounce back from difficult life events. 

This doesn’t mean stressful situations won’t affect you — quite the contrary. You’ll still feel all the negative emotions and types of stress. But, with more resilience, you can work through those feelings and avoid psychological distress.

The 4 types of resilience

There are four types of resilience, each corresponding to a different area of your life.

Psychological resilience is the ability to motivate yourself to do something difficult. For example: 

  • Running every day to train for a half-marathon
  • Writing a whole book while also working a full-time job

Emotional resilience refers to your ability to conjure positive emotions when you need them — like optimism, curiosity, or joy. Some examples:

  • Encouraging your team through a difficult project
  • Making the best of your recovery time after an injury

Social resilience is the ability to reach out to others for help. It’s also about being the kind of person who others don’t mind supporting. Some examples of social resilience include:

  • Asking friends for encouragement before you head into a job interview 
  • Considering and accepting difficult advice from people who care about you

Physical resilience refers to the capacity to overcome physical challenges. For instance:

  • Beating your weight-lifting goal at the gym
  • Helping a friend move a couch down a narrow staircase

Why resilience is important

Life has many blessings. But you’ll never completely avoid hardship. Some challenges will be relatively minor, and others may be disastrous.

When adversity strikes, keeping a resilient mindset allows you to tackle problems head-on, overcome them, and move on. It prevents you from becoming overwhelmed and encourages healthy coping mechanisms. It also helps you tap into your strengths and support networks to rebuild after experiencing pain, hardship, and suffering.

Make BetterUp part of your support system. Through one-on-one sessions, our coaches can help you overcome life’s challenges. And through resilience training, we’ll review your strengths and give you the tools to feel confident about the future.

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What causes low resilience?

There are a few reasons why people have low resilience. Thankfully, low resilience doesn't have to be a permanent condition. With regular practice of  mental fitness exercises, you can build resilience and other core psychological resources, just like you go to the gym to build strength and physical fitness. 

Here are things that might be affecting your resilience levels:

  • Childhood experiences. Being consistently overwhelmed as a child and lacking a strong support system are good predictors for unhealthy coping strategies and a low tolerance for change.
  • Lack of social support. Even if you had a healthy childhood, you might feel overwhelmed if you don’t currently receive emotional validation from loved ones. Your family members, friends, and colleagues should help you feel supported.
  • Unrealistic plans. Setting unachievable goals can set you up for failure and disappointment. Lower resilience often stems from taking on too much too fast and setting yourself up for failure.
  • Low self-esteem. If you don’t have faith in yourself or your abilities, you’re less likely to adapt gracefully to stressful situations. Some side-effects of low-self esteem also include mental illnesses such as anxiety, stress, loneliness, and an increased likelihood of depression.
  • Emotional regulation. If you never learned how to process your emotions or seek help to work through them, you’re more likely to be overwhelmed when challenged.


The impacts of low resilience

Low resilience often leads to higher levels of stress, which is why both conditions share similar symptoms. These include behavioral changes like:

  • Changing your eating habits
  • Smoking, drinking, or other substances
  • Avoiding colleagues, friends, and family
  • Overreacting to minor problems

You may also experience emotional symptoms in reaction to adverse events. For example:

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Disappointment with yourself
  • Tearfulness or aggression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Low energy levels

From a physical standpoint, you may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pains and aching
  • Palpitations

Your cognitive functions may also take a hit, leading to:

  • Indecision
  • Easily losing concentration
  • Having difficulty remembering
  • Being easily confuse


The effects of low resilience on your health

Low resilience increases your susceptibility to stress. This, in turn, can lead to long-term health consequences.

Stress is your body’s reaction to a real or perceived danger (also known as a stressor). When you have low resilience, your response to a stressor is more intense — causing the release of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, through your body.

These hormones increase your heart rate, tighten your blood vessels, and raise your blood sugar. If you frequently experience these symptoms — or experience them for an extended period of time — you open yourself up to several unfavorable health conditions. Here are some examples:

High resilience helps with stress management. It reduces your reaction to stressors, thus lowering your stress response and risk of long-term health consequences.

Consequences of low personal resilience at work

Unsurprisingly, 75% of American workers say “stress” is their number one workplace health concern. And for those who lack resilience, stress can seriously reduce their sense of worth, attitude toward their job, and work performance. And let’s be real: work can be stressful. 

But it doesn’t have to be, so it’s important to increase your level of resilience at work. It’ll improve your well-being and make you a more valuable candidate to prospective employers.

Some of the top skills valued by companies are related to resilience. They want people who are adept at:

  • Complex problem solving
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Self-efficacy

These skills can help you adapt to complex challenges, work more collaboratively with your team, and ultimately reduce the impact of stress on your well-being.

Reframing negative thoughts

Humans naturally tend toward negativity. We often:

  • Remember traumatic events more clearly than positive ones
  • Dwell on criticism rather than praise
  • Think about negative things more often than positive ones
  • React more strongly to negative events than hopeful ones

You can thank evolution for this cognitive function. Historically, it kept us alert to potential dangers and increased our chances of survival. But nowadays, our negativity bias is much less helpful. It can hurt you in many areas, including your resilience. 

When you focus on something bad that happened, the chances are that it wasn’t a life-or-death situation. The unfair criticism you received at work, the rude customer at the coffee shop, the spilled water on your shirt — these are valid annoyances, but they won’t kill you. Even if it feels like the end of the world, you can persevere. 


Dwelling on these negative events gives them undue weight in your life. This only increases your stress levels when reframing your thoughts would be much healthier.

You can do this in a few ways:

  • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Be careful not to see everything as a strict success or failure. For example, spilling water is indeed annoying. But it shouldn’t have a bearing on the rest of your day.
  • Look for the positive. It might sound cliché, but disregarding positive experiences only justify hurtful thought patterns. Look for positive things that happened to you. There are more than you think.
  • Tame your emotions. You’re allowed to be annoyed, angry, or sad. But don’t draw conclusions about your life based on these emotions. Like most feelings, they drift away as quickly as they came.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. It’s easy to make assumptions, but you likely don’t have the details to accurately assess the situation. So next time someone cuts you off on the highway, try to think of the whole picture. Their anger has more to do with their issues than yours.
  • Practice self-compassion. Negative thoughts harm no one more than you. You can acknowledge a bad day while also letting it go. Removing negativity from your mind is an act of self-care.
  • Focus on what you can control. The world is full of things you can’t change, so it’s no use dwelling on them. Instead, focus on what you can change. This will help you feel more empowered and optimistic — thus improving your resilience.


The road to resilience

You’ll invariably encounter hard times. It’s a part of life. But, by building resilience, you can gracefully take on the challenges that come your way.

It won’t be easy, and it’s okay to ask for help if you need it. Working with a mental health professional can help you identify negative thought patterns and stop the effects of low resilience — especially if your negativity is rooted in childhood trauma.

BetterUp can help, too. Through one-on-one sessions with a coach, you can build your confidence, enhance your coping skills, and prepare for the future. The first step is always the hardest. But we’re here to cheer you on — no matter where you are on the resilience scale.

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Published September 12, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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