Building Emotional ResilienceOct 24, 2023
What is emotional resilience and why does it benefit us?
The word ‘resilience’ comes from the Latin word ‘resilio’ which means ‘to bounce back’ or retaliate. We all know, life is never perfect. As much as we wish things would ‘just go our way,’ difficulties are inevitable and we all have to deal with them. This is where emotional resilience training comes in to help us deal with the ongoing battles of daily life. In a broad way, emotional resilience means bouncing back from a stressful encounter and not letting it affect our internal motivation.
It’s also important to note that it’s often our struggles, our traumas, our difficulties that shape us in the most wonderful way. Pretty much every success story is born from a moment of struggle. By building resilience we are not sweeping things under the carpet or avoiding them, we are instead facing these difficulties head on, choosing to learn from our pain. Perhaps even sometimes, turning our pain into our purpose.
From a young age we experience a variety of emotions - happiness, sadness, anger, excitement, nerves, worry... Unfortunately, we were never taught about our emotions at a young age, learning how to understand and deal with them appropriately. Research shows that young people are more amenable to change because the brain and personality are still developing. Therefore, it makes sense to empower young children with resilience-promoting tools. One day, I hope things will change at school. But for now, the most powerful thing we can do to inspire a younger generation, is to model the behaviour that we are learning now - how to be emotionally resilient ourselves. Research shows that trying to inflict change on someone doesn’t often work. Instead, if you can practice emotional resilience yourself, you are more likely to inspire those around you.
That said, neuroplasticity shows that we can learn new skills and habits at any age. We are always able to change our brain wiring by creating new habits in our day to day lives, to empower us with a better understanding of our emotions and how to process them so that they don’t become stuck in our bodies. The importance of understanding and processing these emotions, means that we have a better grasp on things when life throws us curve balls, and as the years go on and we delve into new and different experiences, we have a better handle on the outcomes. Emotions stuck in the body can cause all sorts of mental & physical health problems. When I dealt with my insomnia & anxiety, my IBS sorted itself out and having not had a period for two years, she came back!
(To learn more about emotions being stuck in the body and the physical side effects, read Louise Hay’s book “You can Heal Your Life.”)
So how do we build emotional resilience?
“Without understanding how our feelings, thoughts, and behaviours work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and each other. When we don’t understand how our emotions shape our thoughts and decisions, we become disembodied from our own experiences and disconnected from each other.”
- Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart
Self-awareness is key. It really is the first step to creating any kind of internal transformation. It’s the ability to really tune into our own feelings and conflicts. The more we work on our self-awareness, the more we gain a deeper understanding of how our feelings contribute to every single action in our lives. We can understand how they show up in our bodies and why. We can understand why we experience the world the way we do, why we have the outlook we have and how to find more of a sense of openness and acceptance for what is. We also gain the confidence to look within rather than looking outward and putting blame on others.
A great example of this would be - if you were stuck in traffic after a hard day at work, you’re exhausted and just want to get home. Instantly you feel frustrated and annoyed. You want to scream at every single car around you and you blame the world for being totally and utterly unfair! If you allow yourself to pause, breath and gain perspective you can have a look at what’s really going on. You can accept that this is not something that you have control over and that screaming at all the other cars isn’t going to actually help. You can also ask yourself “Why am I so upset about this particular situation?” Perhaps you haven’t given yourself much time recently to rest and recuperate. Perhaps you are frustrated at the way you spoke to someone at work. Perhaps your partner said something earlier that really pissed you off! Often what we are getting at isn’t the root cause of the problem - self-awareness shines a light on this.
Ways to start your self-awareness journey:
- Journaling - this is a great start to understanding your feelings and emotions - click here for a downloadable and fillable workbook to get you started with journaling.
- Practicing gratitude. Click here for a great podcast on the Science of Gratitude.
- Therapy / coaching / mentorship - having that support system is key to understanding yourself more, by getting outside perspectives, which can give you feedback that will develop your understanding.
- Books such as Brené Brown – Atlas of the Heart, or Atomic Habits – James Clear.
- Meditation. This is THE best and most transformational way to find more self-awareness. Click here to join my 14 Day Self-Worth Boost Challenge which gives you a daily meditation & journaling practice and will really kick start your self-awareness journey.
- You can find further information in my blog post here on lack of self-awareness and how to fix it.
Persistence is about having the courage and determination to keep going when things get tough. It’s learning to have a sense of trust in yourself and your ability to make the best out of a difficult situation. The more you practice persistence, the deeper your confidence grows. It’s a commitment to keep trying and the more this skill develops, the more the stressors of life will start to become easier to deal with. It’s like you get to say to yourself, hey, I have dealt with something like this before, and I will deal with it again.
Persistence also is about having self-belief, combined with awareness to understand when reaching the destination necessitates doing something differently. Persistence might require pivoting and making some surprising twists and turns along the journey.
How to develop persistence?
You can start by setting small, achievable goals. An example would be, let’s say you wanted to start exercising regularly - you could go for a 10 min walk in your lunch breaks, or take the stairs at every possible moment. You can create stackable habits by intertwining small changes into your current daily routine. For example, after you brush your teeth every day, you choose to do 10 squats. It makes it easier to remember when you attach a new habit to an old one.
Slowly, you can then increase the intensity over time as you feel the benefits. The more you practice persistence in small ways, you will slowly create levels of confidence within yourself. It’s important to remember that most people’s journey with all of this IS slow. It’s not one enlightening moment that’s going to change your life one day. It’s the small ways in which you show up for yourself.
Laughter is incredibly powerful in terms of building resilience:
- Dissolves negative emotions such as anger and anxiety
- Keeps problems in perspective
- Puts you in a positive frame of mind which will reconnect you to yourself & allow you to create an energy that feels better in the body
- Humour really is the best medicine and will give the body a plethora of wonderful health benefits - surround yourself with people who make you laugh, watch your favourite comedy, read a funny book… whatever it is, make a commitment to bringing laughter into your everyday life.
Evidence shows that highly resilient people even manage to experience positive emotions in the middle of stressful, challenging situations. Studies link these positive emotions to their ability to rebound from negative emotional experiences and find humour in the darkness.
Relationships truly are the best marker of our health and happiness. Connecting with yourself in a deeper way will help you connect with others. This requires studying the different emotions we go through and beginning to understand them. Connecting with yourself requires you to build emotional resilience. You have the power within you to create incredible relationships with people, and as social creatures this is key to feeling empowered in our day to day lives.
Something that strengthens relationships is vulnerability. Vulnerability is not weak, vulnerability takes a huge amount of courage and building emotional resilience can help with this. Vulnerability is described by Brené Brown as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." It's that uncomfortable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or when we feel out of control.
Read more on relationships and human needs here.
5. Controlling those emotions (DBT)
This stands for Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. It is based around Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, but its specially adapted for people who feel emotions very intensely. On a basic level, the process of DBT is to get you to be fully present with your emotions. An example of how this would work would be:
A friend of yours isn’t replying to a text message for longer than usual, you start to worry why you haven’t had a reply thinking “Is she annoyed at me?” You then get upset and feel sad and confused. You might then feel an urge to do something about this feeling. You message again and say ‘Have I done something to upset you, are we ok?’ Through the process of DBT, you can be present with that emotion you are feeling, you can explore it and then pause before the behaviour comes into play. You can recognise that feelings aren’t facts and you can realise that perhaps you are creating a story in your mind. Self-soothing will help encourage you to stay with the emotion before reacting. This takes a lot of practice, but the more you learn to acknowledge and be present with these emotions, this will in time get easier.
Presence is key - when we learn to be present we are able to accept the emotions we feel as fleeting. The saying “this too shall pass” is so very true. So much of our pain and struggle comes from regretting the past and worrying about the future. Staying present will help you ground down in the beauty of this moment we have now. Feeling grateful for all that we have right now. Slowly you will start to see the futility of living in the past and future and you will live a much freer life in the here and now. I honestly never thought this would be possible when I first heard of this concept. I thought it was ridiculous! But slowly over time I have developed the skill to remain present and it has had a huge impact on my life. I no longer feel the need to control everything around me and I can accept things as they are rather than get so worked up (as I used to!) Click here to learn more about my 30 Days of mindfulness and explore your ability to remain present!