NeuRA’s Resilience Research Lab

One quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. NeuRA’s Resilience Research Lab led by Dr Justine Gatt focuses on understanding and promoting our mental wellbeing and resilience to stress, so we can better protect ourselves against the development of mental health problems.

 

What is resilience?

Resilience has been defined in numerous but often ambiguous ways. Research by Dr Gatt suggests that resilience is best understood as a dynamic, contextual process of adaptive recovery following adversity or trauma. This perspective allows room for the interplay between both genetic and environmental factors (Genes, Brain and Emotions: Interdisciplinary and Translational Perspectives, 2019). This means that resilience is not something we are ‘born with’; it’s the series of steps taken to positively adapt to a stressor.

 

Towards building resilience.

Dr Gatt’s research has established that everyone has the potential to increase their wellbeing and resilience to stress.

“Our twin study has highlighted that both our environment and genetics contribute to our wellbeing. Therefore, it is not something that you are simply born with,” says Dr Gatt.

“It is particularly important during childhood and adolescence while the brain is still developing, as it is still so malleable to the positive and negative effects of the environment.”

The Resilience Research Lab at NeuRA have used their findings to develop a scale and framework for building resilience, called the COMPAS-W Wellbeing Scale. The COMPAS-W scale measures 6 key components of mental wellbeing. These include: composure to stress, own-worth, mastery, positivity, achievement, and satisfaction with life.

 

Adopting the COMPAS-W for short and long-term strategies

In addition to promoting wellbeing, this framework could be used to help deal with everyday anxiety in the short term, as well as build long-term resilience strategies against future stressors.

By the short term, we are referring to dealing with the immediate anxiety symptoms at hand. These symptoms could include feeling tense and edgy, confusion or excessive worry, and/or a desire to avoid the problem or situation. In these instances, what we need to focus on is our stress composure. This includes the use of adaptive coping strategies that may help alleviate the tension and worry experienced such as deep breathing, mindfulness or going for a jog, before thinking of a plan of small manageable steps to effectively deal with the problem.

 

The long-term strategies can then be implemented once the initial anxiety or stressor has subsided. Some example options may include:

  • Building Mastery: Identify your strengths, talents and interests and ways you can proactively build on them. It is also useful to identify new skills you would like to master. Engaging in these sorts of activities may take you out of your comfort zone, but by doing this, it helps you learn how to manage mild controllable stressors in your environment.
  • Promoting Achievement: Think about your life goals and incremental ways these could be implemented and monitored in your life. These could include things that bring a sense of joy and achievement when accomplished, and that are meaningful to you.
  • Optimising Positivity: Try and adopt a positive outlook. Identify activities or hobbies you enjoy doing and schedule them into your diary on a frequent basis. You could also find ways to surround your space (e.g., at home or work) with things that uplift you such as photos, images, colour, music, plants.
  • Developing a fit and healthy lifestyle: Optimal physical health is also pivotal to optimal mental health. It’s therefore important to adopt healthy lifestyle options including a regular exercise regime, a good nights’ sleep, and a healthy diet.

If you, or someone you know, is feeling anxious right now, you can find out more information on the Black Dog Institute Website.