The flesh is strong, but the mind is weak? In our focus "Sport for the Mind" we focus on the inner forces. Because the brain and the psyche have unimagined resources. In the first part, you will read how you train your resistance, especially in times of crisis.

Some forests on earth have to burn so that new life can arise in them. Humans are also made to cope with crises, such as coping with the death of their parents or losing their jobs or the corona pandemic. The psyche is resilient. Scientists refer to this ability as resilience. Most people survive a stroke of fate without developing anxiety disorder, becoming depressed or addicted. But resilience is also shown by the fact that you take your mental hardship seriously in good time, get support and help - and thereby become stable or healthy again more quickly.

Like nature, fire, human beings even need crises. Those who experience several stressful events in their lifetime are at less risk of becoming mentally ill than someone who does not have any negative experiences ( PsychologicalScience : Seery et al., 2013). However, the curve is U-shaped: too many or too hard strokes of fate make you mentally more vulnerable.

The basically good news: the brain protects us in times of crisis. So far, researchers are not yet fully aware of the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for this. However, the psychological and social mechanisms that make us resilient, the fundamental and emotional resilience factors play a role, have been well investigated. Whole branches of research have emerged in the past 50 years. There are also special centers dedicated to resilience.

Oliver Tüscher works at the Leibniz Institute for Resilience Research (LIR) in Mainz and knows: "Many people get through a crisis well, as Covid-19 has shown. But there are also some who find it more difficult." Above all, Tüscher and his colleagues want to find out how exactly this group can be supported. For a long time, if you thought that a resilient soul was largely a matter of luck, the scientists are convinced that resilience can be developed and trained to a certain extent, not only as a child but also in adulthood.

For some mental learning process, people need a counterpart. Other things can also be acquired on your own. There are now numerous apps and online programs that are designed to help you become more resilient. The Mainz LIR, for example, developed a free course especially for the Corona period and provides tips on its website on how to strengthen its mental health in the pandemic.

Extensive research has been carried out to determine which methods are particularly effective. Surveys and studies in which the participants assess themselves suggest that the following seven factors can most reliably promote resilience.  

1. Extend (or narrow) the social network

Being socially involved is one of the most important resilience factors. It doesn't just mean that you have a partner, a family you can rely on, and friends. It is also about relationships with colleagues, members of the sports club, neighbors. If you want to find out whether you are well received in your private life and in your job, you can playfully visualize your social network. The following technique is used in the LIR's rescue center: First, write your name in the middle of a large sheet. Then you place the names of important people from the areas of work, partnership / family, friends, neighborhood / club in each of the four corners and draw circles around each name - the more important the person, the larger the circle. Now you connect your own squiggle with the squiggles of the others and do it according to the quality of the relationship. The lines can be thick (a lot of contact) or thin (little contact), straight (positive relationship) or wavy (difficult relationship). This method makes gaps or imbalances in the social network visible: For example, that you have a reliable partner, but not a trustworthy caregiver in the office. Or that you have a lot of ephemeral acquaintances, but no deeper relationship. "These are signs that you should continue weaving your social network - or even tie it closer," says resilience researcher Oliver Tüscher. So reduce superficial contacts and concentrate on the essential ones that you experience as balanced and supportive.

2. Recognize distorted perceptions of the brain

Physicians expect that mental disorders will increase as a result of the corona pandemic ( DeutschesÄrzteblatt : Zielasek / Gouzoulis-Mayfrank, 2020). In order to get a first impression of the current human condition, researchers from various renowned universities in Germany, together with colleagues from all over Europe, interviewed 5,000 people. The so-called DynaCORE-C study ( PsyArXiv : Veer et al., 2020) is pre-published, but is not yet peer-reviewed , i.e. it has not yet been assessed by independent experts. However, in a first evaluation of the results, the researchers announced that the study should prove for the first time that people can be mentally more resilient if they can benefit from a bad experience. For example, subjects who enjoyed the blue sky during the lockdown phase or who were not stuck in traffic on their way to work and had more time with the family experienced the pandemic as less stressful. The concept of so-called positive reassessment of an initially difficult situation, in English Positive Reappraisal , has long been known. From stress research, for example, you know that you can cope with stress better if, after the first feeling of being overwhelmed, you think about what strengths, resources and opportunities you may have to tackle the difficulties in individual steps. Resilience researchers have so far only assumed that this broadening of the perspective could also make it more resilient.