The Physiological Foundation of Resilence…Are You Creating It?

A couple of days ago I was working out in the morning, doing Scott Sonnen’s Tacfit Warrior program, which is an incredibly fun high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout. Part of what makes it so fun–and not just another boring slow mo cardio workout–is how it builds coordination and athleticism, because the program involves increasing complexity of movement.

After the workout, as I basked in the great feeling created by such intense exercise, I found myself thinking about the power of exercise to shift your emotional and mental state.

It also reminded me of the research I came upon years ago about the physiological differences between resilient and non-resilient individuals….whether human or non-human.

I remember being blown away at the time (now it just makes sense) that the same physiological foundation that made certain strains of lab rats or mice resilient was also shown to be present in resilient, stress hardy humans.

In other words, whether we’re talking about lab rats or human beings, resilient individuals have a different baseline physiology and a different physiological response to stress.

The other thing that stood out for me was that you could train lab rats and mice to develop a more empowered physiological response to stressors, just as you can train humans to have a more empowered physiological response to stressors.

So what?

I think one of the big take away messages-at least it has been for me over the years is this:

“If you want to handle stress more easily, if you want to be more resilient, then build the physiology that makes resilience possible.”

Do you remember the Vince Lombardi quote:

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

In that simple truism, he communicated the power of the mind/body connection and the importance of building the physiological substrate of resilience.

In other words, the better shape we’re in and the greater our energy reserves, the greater our ability to maintain a positive mental attitude during difficult times.

That’s because:

1) How we perceive the world is strongly influenced by how we feel–i.e. emotions affect perception. – That’s why problems seem so much more daunting when we’re tired, hungry, or feeling ill. Conversely, if we feel rested and energized, we literally see the same problems very differently. Because of our different perspective, we’re able to see opportunity where before we only saw obstacles. We also can see a path to solving the problems where before all we could see was a wall.

2. Our physiological state–i.e. our biochemisty–accompanies and influences our emotional state – Whatever emotional state we’re in, whether joy or sadness or anger, possesses it’s own “biochemical cocktail”, to use Dr. Candace Pert’s terminology. Scientists have even been able to isolate the different biochemical states corresponding to infatuation and “new love” and the more settled, cozy emotional state accompanying “long term love”.

Because each emotional state has its own corresponding biochemical cocktail, heart rate, breathing rate, and other physiological correlates, shifting one’s physiological state shifts our emotional state.

That’s why you feel energized and “Bring it on!” after vigorous exercise or relaxed and peaceful after yoga.

So what to do with this?

Make sure you’re doing the things that help create the physiology of resilience:

  1. Vigorous exercise (unless you have some kind of medical condition that makes this unsafe). Check out HIIT protocols.
  2. Enough sleep. Forget about positive biochemistry if you’re not getting adequate sleep.
  3. Recovery time, including restorative practices like yoga, chi kung, and tai chi.
  4. Eating practices that doing create high cortisol levels – This would include getting jacked up on multiple cups of coffee to offset lack of sleep, and eating lots of sugary foods. Also, chronically high cortisol levels are a perfect biochemical cocktail for being a “fat storer” rather than a “fat burner”. So, if you have high cortisol levels, even if you’re working out, your body stores fat. Also, cortisol has been described as “the biochemical of defeat”. It has a strong effect on our perceptions.

If you’re curious about the Tacfit program, here’s a video demonstration of part of the Tacfit Warrior Workout, watch this:

Tacfit Warrior Demonstration

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