Emotional resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful situations and cope with life’s ups and downs. The word ‘resilience’ comes from the Latin ‘resilio’ meaning to bounce back. Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life’s difficulties, but allows you to tackle or accept problems, live through adversity and move on with life.
Whilst resilient people do not allow adversity to define them or their lives and are able to ‘roll with the punches’, less resilient people have a harder time with stress and life changes. However, being rigidly ‘strong’ without flexibility may be unhelpful, leading to ‘stress fractures’. A Resilient person is more like a bamboo in a hurricane – bending rather than breaking, being flexible and adaptable, rather than rigidly resistant. Similarly, buildings such as bridges and high buildings are resilient when they allow movement rather than holding together rigidly.
Developing Emotional Resilience
Biological and social influences make some people seem more ‘naturally’ resilient than others, but the good news is that everyone can take steps to develop greater personal emotional resilience.
1. Know boundaries. There is a difference between you and the cause of your suffering.
2. Cultivate self-awareness. Take time to tune into your feelings and your body. Name your feelings. Notice when they come and why. Think about what’s helpful and what’s unhelpful to you. Adopt what is helpful and look after yourself.
3. Seek helpful connections. Aim to be with people who are able to listen and be supportive whist not trying to ‘fix’ you or solve your issues. Try letting others know what you need and what you find unhelpful. Seek company that helps you feel positive. Friends, family, tutors, a counsellor, a helpline, or a relevant workshop, book, website or training may all play a part.
4. Practise acceptance. Stress, pain and changes are a part of living. It’s more helpful to accept the reality of pain, rather than repress or deny it. This is not about giving-up, it is about acknowledging pain, knowing that it comes and goes, and that you can survive by looking after yourself, doing what helps, and allowing support from others.
5. Practise mindfulness. Being in the present moment without judgement or avoidance is a powerful, ancient form of healing and resilience building. It takes practice, but reminding yourself to gently come back to the present moment may be really helpful.
6. Expect not to have all the answers immediately. You have in-built healing abilities. Trying to fix things by force may hinder finding your natural balance which may take time.
7. Allow yourself to be imperfect. Making mistakes is part of healthy living. Keep going and don’t be discouraged by ‘getting things wrong’. Allow yourself not to do too many things at once and let go of some things you don’t have to do, or that are not your responsibility.
8. Allow others to be imperfect. All of us are fallible. When you are less critical and accepting of yourself, you are more able you will be able to extend this grace to others, and to allow them to extend the same to you.
9. Practise self-care. Be aware of and seek out what resources and nourishes you. Make sure you are not ‘running on empty’. Inner wellbeing is nurtured by exercising, eating healthily, getting enough sleep, good company, receiving and giving help, fun, relaxation, having quiet time, and avoiding too much alcohol or stimulants.
10. Consider your possibilities and goals, and take realistic steps. Reflect on what is in your power to change and what is not. Aim to accept what cannot be changed and consider what can be. Is there a different way of seeing your current situation? Might there be in the future? What choices do you have? What are your realistic goals? These may be very small to start with. Keep going and don’t give up.
11. Express yourself. When things seem to spin around inside or you feel preoccupied, it may be helpful to express things in writing, to a friend or creatively. You may choose to free yourself from unhelpful ruminating by bringing yourself to the present, e.g. by going to the gym, baking, walking, painting, yoga, volunteering, or practising self-care or mindfulness.
12. Keep things in perspective. Try to look at day-to-day issues from a broader perspective. Humour, a sense of purpose, love and giving to others, and other spiritual perspectives may also help.
13. Practise optimism. Is there a good side to a bad situation? If so, consider both sides. If possible, allow yourself to appreciate what is good, even in the midst of pain. When possible, see crises as challenges to be overcome rather than insurmountable problems. Remember what you have overcome in the past and your previous successes, and draw strength and confidence from this.
14. Notice your warning signs. Notice signs that you are experiencing vulnerability, e.g. sleeplessness, anxiety, hopelessness, joylessness, loss or gain in appetite, headaches or sickness, and then take steps to look after yourself, e.g. talking to someone and practising self-care. If warning signs persist speak to your GP.
15. Nurture a positive view of yourself. Imagine you are your own best-friend or someone you really care about. What care, love, patience, kindness, hope, encouragement and forgiveness would you offer this person? Offer this to yourself.
16. Trust yourself. Attach less importance to what others think. Resist making comparisons with others. However difficult things are. You are in charge of yourself and have choices.