Mental resilience, psychological resilience, “mental toughness” — however you want to call it — is usually defined as a person’s ability to remain mentally fit in the face of adversity. There has been a lot of interest in this idea in recent years, especially given the challenges of the recent pandemic and the accompanying economic and social disruption that came with it.1,4
In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a need for mental resilience. Realistically, adversity eventually makes its way into everyone’s lives and the ones best prepared for it tend to be better off. This is especially relevant when discussing mental health conditions like substance use disorder (SUD).1,2,3
Whether one is trying to recover from SUD, or a related condition like an anxiety disorder, building mental resilience is almost always a part of any long-term recovery strategy. Strengthening a recovering individual’s mental toughness can help set them up for success, allowing them to continually make good decisions despite what their negative impulses are urging them to do.
Below are some ways people recovering from SUD and co-occurring mental health issues can build up their mental toughness. Be sure to check out this resource on activities that are proven to help SUD recovery. 1,2,3,4
It can be difficult to manage emotions if you’re not in tune with them, more so if you have an underlying mental health condition like SUD that undermines your ability to perceive them.
There is much more to emotional literacy than simply knowing if you’re happy or sad, though this would be a good start. Emotional literacy also involves exercising empathy, learning to manage emotional impulses, repairing emotional issues, and understanding how all these things go together.
Better emotional literacy is a necessary step to better mental toughness, as it allows recovering individuals to better understand areas for improvement as well as ways to manage emotions.
The journey to better emotional literacy and, therefore, better mental toughness is different for everyone. That said, activities that may help build it over time include psychotherapy, regular exercise, meditation or prayer, quiet time, and properly-managed social interactions.
People with mental health issues often find it difficult to dedicate time and mental energy to stay physically healthy. Unfortunately, being unhealthy physically can, in the long-term, make it difficult to more sustainably take care of one’s mental health as well.
Thankfully, there are plenty of simple things that you can do to improve your physical health that will help improve your mental resilience. Exercising at least 20 minutes a day or a little over two hours a week, cutting out highly-processed foods from your diet, and making sure you’re well-hydrated can already put you well ahead of the pack. Doing at least these activities should, over time, make it easier for your to better prioritize your mental health.
Improving sleep quality is an often overlooked way not just to build mental resilience, but also to improve overall mental health as well. Simply put, it’s harder to regulate your emotions if you don’t get enough rest. While you may be able to get away with it for a couple of months, the lack of quality sleep will eventually catch up with you.
This is especially relevant for people recovering from SUDs that resulted from self-medication for anxiety or sleeping disorders. Given that the lack of sleep is an underlying cause of substance misuse in these cases, addressing sleep issues is a necessary step in building mental resilience and laying the groundwork for a sustainable recovery.
Mental resilience has to be built up incrementally. As with any learned behaviors, you are essentially creating fresh connections in your brain, and this is something that may take months or years. For this to happen effectively, you need to have a plan. However, you also need to take into account your ongoing motivation.
For most people, the best way would be to set goals that are progressively more challenging but are well within reach. Using a journal and working with your therapist can also help you get a better handle on how you’re progressing, which should help you further maintain your gains.
Sometimes the biggest barrier towards building better mental resilience is the presence of negative influences. Friends and family members that enable bad behavior may prevent you from building the mental resilience you need to achieve a full recovery. Likewise, situations at work or school can make it difficult to focus on achieving your immediate recovery goals.
While there are no easy solutions for these situations, it may become necessary to find a coping strategy or avoid them altogether. If the enablers are close family or friends, it may be a good idea to hash things out with friends and family you think are enabling potential relapses, especially within the context of a therapy session guided by a qualified counselor. Otherwise, you can consider opting to avoid them temporarily until you’ve recovered.
Building mental resilience is an often overlooked but crucial part of relapse prevention and long-term recovery.1,2,3 If you’re in and around the North Texas region, call Dallas Drug Treatment Centers at +1(214) 935-2287 to find options for drug and alcohol rehab that focus on building mental resilience.