Cultivating Emotional Resilience

by | Aug 6, 2021

We are living in unpredictable times and many of us are facing challenges in our lives with no concrete roadmap for recovery. So how do we function in an increasingly uncertain world? The answer could be emotional resilience.

Emotional resilience is a combination of physical, mental and social factors that provide the ability to cope and adjust to life changes and adversity without becoming overwhelmed.

We can work on cultivating our emotional resilience by developing healthy coping mechanisms that will help us to maintain an even keel during distressing times.

Ways to cultivate Emotional Resilience

Increase self-awareness

Self-awareness is often called the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. It is the ability to tune into our feelings, identify and question our core-beliefs & thought patterns and gain a better understanding of how these contribute to our behaviour.

As opposed to assigning blame to others, those who are self-aware are more empowered to look for answers to their challenges within. 

So how can we improve our self-awareness? Lyn Moseley – Mindview psychologist explains how mindfulness can help:

“We can become more self-aware by learning how to focus our attention and resist the pull to live our lives on autopilot. This means learning how to slow things down in the present moment and create space for more conscious self-understanding. This process is referred to as being mindful. By learning how to disengage from the chatter of our thoughts and the intensity of our emotions through mindful awareness, we can attend to our needs with more self-compassion and make more conscious decisions about the way we want to live our lives.”

Try to focus on what’s within your control

When faced with so much uncertainty and restriction, it is very easy to allow our thoughts to spiral out of control and focus on what could go wrong, what we can’t have or what we can’t do. Many of the challenges we are facing right now are influenced by factors that are not within our control which can make us feel powerless.

Being aware of what you can and can’t control and choosing to direct your thoughts to what you do have control over can ease the feelings of powerlessness and help you make decisions and take action that will have a positive impact on your life.

Realistic optimism

Blind optimism can be described as maintaining a positive outlook while ignoring important facts and details. However, realistic optimism is the ability to balance a positive outlook with a realistic view of the world.

People who practice realistic optimism pay attention to negative information and allow it to influence their approach to challenges in a positive and productive way.

Examples of realistic optimism can include:

“This is going to be hard, but I have done hard things before. I’m sure I will figure it out.”

“I failed the exam, but sitting it again will be an opportunity to increase my knowledge through further study.”

Be flexible

Let’s face it, sometimes things don’t go to plan. The ability to be cognitively flexible and be open to a variety of approaches to achieve a desired outcome means you will be more able to adapt to situations that are unpredictable.

Flexible thinking doesn’t mean the absence of planning, it just means you are open to adapting your plans to evolving situations. People who use flexible thinking are able to switch gears and discover new ways of solving a problem.

Seek emotional support from others

Although some people find it hard to open up and seek support from others, doing so can provide perspective, validation and helpful feedback that can be hard to come by on your own. 

Not everyone in your life will be great at offering you the emotional support you need, but if you can identify trustworthy and supportive people in your life and seek help when you need it, you will be better placed to overcome your challenges.

Persistence

Failure can be demoralising and many people choose not to embark on ventures at all for fear of failure. Acknowledging that things not working out is a part of life and an opportunity for growth gives you the courage to try again when things don’t work out the first time.

Humour

Humour has the power to weaken negative emotions. While not always appropriate, studies have shown that when humour is used to reduce the threatening nature of a challenging situation, it can increase an individual’s resilience and capacity to tolerate stress.

Next time you are faced with a situation that raises negative emotions, see if you can find the ‘funny side’ and notice how your mood changes.

Learn to identify and manage your emotions

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

 The key to emotional resilience is not to avoid, deny or suppress emotions but rather notice them without allowing them to overwhelm you or control your behaviour. There is research that shows that most feelings only last for 90 seconds. In other words:

 “there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”  ― Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

 Often it is the ‘story we tell ourselves’ triggered by the initial emotional response that causes us deeper and more prolonged distress.

 Feeling emotions is completely natural. While we often can’t control our initial emotional response to a situation, we can become aware of how our thought patterns keep us in the ‘emotional loop’ and learn how to use them to create pathways towards feeling better.

Practice self-compassion

What do you tell yourself when you make a mistake? Do you call yourself ‘stupid’ or an ‘idiot’ when you mess up?

This negative self-talk is often rooted in shame. Everyone makes mistakes, the key is how we respond to ourselves and move forward after we make them.

Understanding and identifying shame is key to self-compassion. Shame can often be confused with guilt, which is also something most of us have felt when we’ve made a mistake. An easy way to understand guilt and shame is as follows:

Guilt is “I did something wrong”

Shame is “I am wrong”

See the difference. Both guilt and shame are powerful emotions but where guilt can be a healthy reaction to an experience or action, shame is caused by an innate sense of being worthless or defective.

 Learn to transform shame into self-compassion by tackling that inner critic, replacing self-judgment with curiosity and try to speak to yourself like you would a dear friend, or a beloved small child.

Improve your relationships with others

Healthy interpersonal relationships are both a byproduct and a key element of emotional resilience. Humans are social creatures, wired for connection with others. We can build emotional resilience by improving our existing relationships and cultivating new ones.

So how can we improve our relationships with others? One helpful thing to remember about relationships is that people react to us either positively or negatively based on how we make them feel.

Often people fall into the trap of feeling like we need to impress others with our physical appearance, abilities, intellect or achievements in order to get them to like us. While these things can often gain us attention and also respect from others, to truly connect with another person you need to focus on them while at the same time be willing to show them your true self. 

This can include listening and paying attention, being authentic, practicing kindness and also being curious. In closer, more intimate relationships, we also need to be willing to open up which includes being vulnerable and sharing how we feel. This opens the door to deeper trust and connection between two people and results in closer, more meaningful relationships.

Practice self-care

Finding ways to prioritize your health and well being ‘refills the well’ and helps us cope with life’s ups and downs more readily. This can include eating a healthy diet, regular exercise spending time in nature and making time outside of work and other life responsibilities to do things that you enjoy.

Summary

There are many more ways we can improve our emotional resilience. Sometimes when we are feeling stuck or overwhelmed, we may benefit from the help of a psychologist or counsellor. Through a strong therapeutic alliance and a variety of evidence based approaches, our therapists can help you overcome your challenges and provide the support you need to work towards lasting and meaningful change in your life.

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