8 Essential Ways to Build Stress Resilience

Sept 14, 2022 | Written by Scott Sherr, MD | Reviewed by Marion Hall

8 Essential Ways to Build Stress Resilience

All of us are faced with challenging life experiences and elements of mental adversity, from both internal and external sources.

Research literature is filled with examples of children and adults who, in the face of considerable psychological stress, displayed minimal changes in emotional well-being or behavioral disturbances [1]. There are, of course, many more that have not been so lucky. 

Our ability to deal with these stresses is called "stress resilience" and is rooted in our view of the world, the availability and quality of social resources, and specific coping strategies that we might employ. According to the American Psychological Association, resources and skills associated with more beneficial outcomes (i.e., greater stress resilience) can be actively cultivated and practiced.   

In today’s article, we will investigate eight essential methods to improve stress resilience according to the latest research. And at least one might surprise you!   


Over the last decade or so, the practice of meditation has been hailed by influential commentators and figures across wellness, business, finance, and entertainment as having benefits for stress and psychological health. But is there any truth to these claims?

A South Korean study from 2019 reported that a 4-day meditation intervention provided improvements to mindfulness and resilience, based on validated questionnaire scores [2]. Perhaps most notably, these improvements were still sustained three months after the intervention.  

An important aspect of this study is that the researchers investigated stress-related neural mechanisms using MRI scanning techniques. They found enhanced resting-state functional connectivity in key areas of the brain (left rostral anterior cingulate cortex, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, and angular gyrus) that correlated especially well with the changes seen in the resilience scores.

This study and others suggest that meditation practice of varying types can build stress resilience, and therefore support its use in your daily routine [2-4].   

There are many apps, websites, and contemporary practices that tout meditation for stress reduction directly but the key most often, especially with the more ancient practices, is the change in perspective that they yield that indirectly leads to the beneficial side effects of stress relief and resilience. 

Have you tried to meditate and failed? You are not alone. For an easy graphic to get started, see the end of this article. And no, you don’t have to clear your mind of thoughts… at its most basic level, just observe them and watch them pass away! 

Gratitude Practice 

Gratitude is one of the most powerful human emotions. It conveys a sense of thankfulness and a readiness to appreciate and reciprocate kindness.  

Gratitude helps us build stress resilience by helping us focus on the positive things in our lives, accept the reality of our lives (no matter how harsh), and help promote indispensable relationships with others. People who express and feel gratitude tend to have higher amounts of grey matter in the right inferior temporal gyrus in the brain [5], and release more of the "emotion-related" neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which all aid in the development of resilience.   

Research has shown that fostering gratitude can help with post traumatic stress [6], and it has been separately associated with greater life satisfaction and fewer symptoms of depression [7]. 

It is difficult to be grateful and angry at the same time. Give it a go the next time your child spills tomatoes all over your favorite carpet, because isn’t it somehow cute to see their tomato-covered face staring at you? Okay, this may take some practice! 


Physical exercise is well-known for its effects on health and wellness. It builds emotional and physical resilience which can help ward off the negative consequences of stress and adversity. Not only that, but exercise helps slow cognitive decline and reduces the chance of dementia occurring in older age, provided the person engages in exercise from 25-50 years of age [8]. Exercise also activates longevity genes via epigenetic mechanisms which also likely contribute.

A Chicago-based study showed that people who reported exercising at least once per week were protected against the negative emotional consequences of acute stress [9]. Exercise also stimulates the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids (especially anandamide, our bliss neurotransmitter) that make us feel good and improve immune function too [9-11]. 

In a rodent study, running enhanced local inhibitory mechanisms in the ventral hippocampus, which consequently improved anxiety regulation and hence might provide some insight into the role of exercise on stress resilience [12].  


When stressful emotions are at a high, it is very difficult to merely "talk" our way out of these feelings. Changing our breathing patterns in ways that stimulate the vagus nerve can signal relaxation and decrease our sympathetic (i.e., fight or flight) response while increasing the parasympathetic (rest and digest) response [13].  

A study of a diaphragmatic breathing intervention consisting of 20 sessions over three weeks found that levels of salivary cortisol decreased (an important marker of stress) while levels of attention and affect improved [14]. 

A recent study published by the HHP Foundation also showed that slow nasal breathing over a few minutes vastly decreased stress in youth as well as adults and also improved exercise performance. 


Spending time in nature is a great way to reduce stress while also building stress resilience [15]. It helps improve emotional regulation and can actually enhance our memory, attention, and overall cognition [16]!  

These positive effects of engaging in the great outdoors might also be enhanced by going for group walks in nature environments [15]. This activity can also be combined with mindfulness practice to help improve well-being and relieve stress [17]. 

So go get some fresh air and hug a tree (or if you want to get some play in, climb a tree… because play works well too)!

Quality Sleep 

Getting good sleep improves many aspects of physical and mental health. It regulates our mood as well as coping skills. Research shows that people with insomnia have low resilience, which is related to high stress-related sleep reactivity, hyperarousal, and emotional dysregulation [18]. 

It is generally recommended that we get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night to be fully rested and obtain the maximum benefits [19]. If you'd like to learn more about why we sleep, read here.

Cold Thermogenesis 

Introducing cold exposure into your routine can fortify the immune system and decrease inflammation [20]. When the immune system is working well, we are much less susceptible to opportunistic infections and other ailments.  

Cold exposure also induces heat shock proteins, or stress proteins [21,22], that have positive effects on health, such as combatting cellular degeneration and aging. It is known activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the levels of beta-endorphins and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) in the blood, as well as the synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain [23]. Collectively, these mechanisms could be responsible for the anti-depressive effect of cold exposure.  

Detect and Correct Imbalances 

The holobiont, also referred to as the holo-organism, represents the concept that what makes up “you” is the external environment around you (i.e., the inputs that occur from these stimuli) plus your internal environment. In your external environment, there are exposures to light (the good, the bad, the sh*tty), water (the good, the bad, the sh*tty... you get the picture), magnetism, foods, microbiota, toxins, toxic people, and much more. In your internal world, there are hormones, mitochondria, the nuclei of your cells, cytokines, and more. 

Exogenous and endogenous metabolites from these exposures/physiologic processes can be measured using the science of metabolomics. This is a real-time analysis of how well your cells are working (or not). 

It won’t be surprising to hear that if your cells are not working well due to deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or toxicities from heavy metals or other environmental exposures, your ability to respond to physical and psychological stresses will be significantly impaired. 

Learn how to detect and correct these deficiencies and toxicities using real-time cellular testing with our nonprofit, Health Optimization Medicine and Practice (HOMe/HOPe).


Stress happens but our response to stress — and how fast it dissipates — is more under our control that we realize. Implementing any of these tools will almost immediately be helpful or, in the case of HOMe/HOPe, will help you with optimized cellular machinery over the long-term. And all of us need help at times as well. Reach out to friends, family, practitioners, therapists, or those you trust, and find the tools that work for you. There are even some supplements like Tro Calm that can help in a pinch, but even this is not a long-term solution.

We leave you today with an infographic on meditation. Enjoy. Or, observe. :) 



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