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Mental toughness and resilience

When it comes to mental health, building mental toughness is crucial for so many areas of life. Mental toughness determines how we manage our thoughts, emotions, energy, and productivity. Mental toughness means you can cope better with hardship and negativity, and train yourself into healthy habits that will keep you thinking and behaving positively. So far, so good, right?

Why would anyone not want mental toughness? Like meditation, it’s something that has to become a habit … and forming a habit takes practice. So how do we build mental toughness, and what does meditation have to do with it? More than you might think.

Building mental toughness

One of the most stressful and mentally challenging jobs in the world is being in the armed forces, which is why governments are beginning to pay serious attention to the mind as well as the body when it comes to the mental health and resilience of soldiers.

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that US Marines who engaged in “mindfulness-based mind fitness training” displayed significant recovery from stress after completing the course. The training, which lasted 8 weeks, included at least 30 minutes of daily mindfulness and self-regulation. It was specifically designed to help Marines enhance their resilience through meditation and mindfulness — and to prepare for, and recover from, stressful combat situations that could result in PTSD and anxiety.

“Psychological training is now a more common aspect of general fitness training, including training professional or elite athletes. Luckily, we don’t have to be professional soldiers or athletes to reap the benefits of mind fitness training!” says Dr. Claudia Aguirre. “Like physical fitness, mind fitness can be strengthened through attention and concentration practices (i.e., meditation) that literally change the brain structurally and functionally — a process called neuroplasticity.”

Dr. Aguirre goes on to explain that mental toughness can be learned, and through meditation, those skills of relaxation and control can even change and strengthen our DNA.

“So in a way, meditating builds our mental resilience against future stress by strengthening the resilience of our very genes,” says Dr. Aguirre.

Research published in the Frontiers in Immunology Journal showed that meditation and mindfulness can actually “reverse” the DNA that causes depression on a molecular level — a pretty incredible feat. "Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don't realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level, and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business,” says lead investigator Ivana Buric, from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University's Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement. "These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path that improves our well-being.”

But you don’t need to be a Marine to see the benefits of meditation and mindfulness in regard to building mental strength — it can work for everyone, no matter what level of stress you are dealing with. Thanks to Headspace’s huge library of guided meditation, you can find the right meditation to deal with specific issues (for example, trouble sleeping, anxiety, depression, and so on).

Mental strength and resilience

Imagine that your brain needs to be worked out, the same way your body does every time you go to the gym. Just as sustained, regular exercise is good for your body; sustained, regular meditation can help your brain — and that’s where Headspace comes in.

“Generally speaking, it takes time and patience to learn the things in life which are valuable, precious, and important,” says Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe. “As they say, ‘If it was easy, they’d all be doing it.’ Nothing could be truer than that when it comes to meditation — it requires courage to sit with the mind on a regular basis, and be present with whatever arises.”

Puddicombe makes the crucial point that you need to put the time in to see results — and it’s absolutely worth it for the benefits.

“Meditation is not some quick-fix, self-improvement program. We are taking time out to train the mind; we are fundamentally shifting the way we relate to our thoughts and feelings. At first, that can sound a little overwhelming. But the benefits are experienced by repeating this exercise a little or often, slowly but surely, and building a stable sense of awareness that starts to filter through to the rest of our life. The more frequently we practice being aware, the more beneficial meditation becomes.”

The science backs up what Puddicombe already knew: studies show that using Headspace reduces stress in just 10 days, and after 30 days of daily meditation using the app, stress was reduced by a third. Headspace was also shown to reduce negative emotions and sadness by 28% after 10 days. So the more you meditate, the better for your mental health, and the better it is for lowering stress and building mental strength and mental toughness. If you aren’t in a calm state of mind, learning how to build your mental strength is made incredibly hard. With Headspace, you can access hundreds of guided meditations and join over 40 million people who have already downloaded the app. For just ten minutes a day, Headspace will teach you meditation skills for building mental resilience, thanks to former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe’s expertise. Join Headspace for free — you have nothing to lose but stress, and everything to gain.