Have you ever asked yourself if you have emotional resilience?
Emotional Resilience: Which are You?
You have probably met him or her. Exhibit A.
They are strong, self-aware, always looking at the bright side of life. Always full of energy, able to laugh at themselves, and most importantly, always bouncing back like a boomerang. This is even when life throws them problem after problem. When times are tough, they just seem to get tougher.
How do they do that? You wonder.
Then, there is that other type of person you probably know. Exhibit B.
When faced with adversity, they struggle to get out of bed for weeks or even months. They find it difficult to summon an ounce of strength to get through the difficult days. Any trigger, small or large, will send their emotions spiraling out of control. When times are tough, they are a wrecking ball at best.
Perhaps if you are reading this, you are Exhibit B.
The good news is that emotional resilience is an attribute that you can develop with consistent practice.
In this article, you will learn about the dynamics of emotional resilience as a personality trait. You’ll also discover why some people are better at bouncing back from stressful situations and the traits of such emotionally resilient people. This will help you apply practical strategies to help you bounce back from adversity every time.
Understanding Emotional Resilience
As we can learn from Exhibit A, emotional resilience is not about having an unrealistic outlook on life. People with emotional resilience don’t possess an “everything’s-all-good” kind of optimism in the face of hardship, challenges, or sheer adversity.
On the contrary, emotional resilience is the ability to tap into the reserves of your inner strength to navigate difficult situations with grace, faith, and objective optimism.
This inner strength is essential for your survival given that challenges are an inevitable part of life. In fact, what sets apart the most successful people is their ability to persevere and deal with difficult situations head-on.
Are Some People Born More Resilient?
Why, even when faced with similar circumstances, do some people cope better than others?
Studies on post-traumatic stress disorder show that genetics and social factors contribute to a person’s level of resilience.
While there is still a lot to learn, so far science shows that the presence of neuropeptide Y, a hormone that regulates the nervous system by inhibiting emotional responses and mitigating stress, helps some individuals detach easily from traumatic events, which is a show of resilience.1
More importantly, people who were exposed to tolerable levels of stress when growing up have been found to be grittier and tend to have an inbuilt mechanism to deal with challenges.
Indeed, the more difficulties you encounter and overcome, the more inner strength you tend to build over time, which enables you to cope better in the future.
How to Become Emotionally Resilient
The best way to become emotionally resilient is to learn from resilience exemplars, i.e. people who show extraordinary strength in the face of adversity. While these people demonstrate several traits, the particular characteristics that enable them to navigate hardship without losing perspective are:
- Internal locus of control
Using these character traits as a foundation, let us delve deeper into how you can develop a stronger sense of emotional resilience.
Nurture Your Sense of Self-Awareness
People who demonstrate emotional resilience are usually in touch with their own emotions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs and are therefore able to feel less scattered and more centered in themselves.
When you understand your thoughts and emotions, you gain the power to change and channel them in the direction that best serves you based on the various situations you encounter.
Awareness of your beliefs also lets you interpret situations more objectively, which is key to overcoming challenges, finding solutions, and gaining higher insight and strength to deal with other difficult situations that you may encounter.
Self-awareness is closely related to emotional intelligence, which is the ability to monitor your own emotions and that of others in an effort to create more empathetic, authentic, and meaningful interactions.
Resilience exemplars show a high degree of understanding of not only their emotions but of others’ as well. By approaching others with empathy, resilient people, in turn, have a strong support network; they have people who vouch for them, which is important when it comes to overcoming life’s challenges.
You can do several things to start nurturing your sense of self-awareness. A good place to start is with meditation and journaling. Meditation helps you bring your thoughts to the present moment and this by itself instantly allows you to get in touch with your inner self.
Regular journaling on the other hand not only allows you to see your thoughts and emotions in action; it also helps you make better sense of them and to recognize who you are.
Overall, being deeply in touch with yourself instantly changes your mental state, so you can see things more clearly and you can, therefore, begin to understand how to navigate or cope with any difficulty.
Shift Your Locus of Control
Do things happen to you or do you make things happen for you?
Resilient people see themselves as being largely in control of their life. To them, they make things happen and they take responsibility for how they respond to those things that are out of their control.
These people have an internal locus of control.
It is hardly surprising that people with an internal locus of control tend to cope better and overcome life’s challenges successfully. They understand that the outcome in any situation depends on how they approach the situation in the first place.
When you are looking down the hole of extraordinary adversity, an internal locus of control allows you to summon your fighting spirit.
When you have to deal with a difficult colleague, spouse, or child, an internal locus of control enables you to summon the motivation and to take the necessary action to solve the situation.
On the contrary, you are less likely to cope well with difficult situations when your locus of control is directed externally and you believe that external variables are in control. You will be less likely to rise up to the occasion, summon your inner strength, and deal with difficult situations head-on.
You may wonder, but aren’t some things out of our control?
It is true that some things are out of your control. In fact, locus of control is not a binary concept where it is either you have it or you don’t. Even the most resilient people do not have 100 percent internal locus of control. This is because some things are indeed beyond their control.
What is important here is whether you believe, at a deeper level, that how you respond to all situations is entirely in your control. This realization is the difference between those who can cope in the face of difficulties and those who cannot.
Focus Your Emotions by Practicing Mindfulness
‘Practice mindfulness’ seems like an overused cliché but there is a reason why experts recommend the practice whether you want to boost performance, reduce stress, or improve health. 2
Mindfulness is a little difficult to put in words but at the core of this practice is the art of paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Importantly, mindfulness involves accepting the full range of these thoughts and feelings without getting embroiled in their goodness or badness at any given moment.
Mindfulness brings us to the present moment, allowing us to experience this moment just as it is—not how it would have been or how it could be.
Numerous studies have shown that the ability to calmly observe our thoughts and be in the present moment can reduce stress, improve well-being, and enhance a shift in perspective especially in the face of a challenging situation or sheer adversity.
What’s the connection between mindfulness and resilience?
New research suggests that meditative practices such as deep breathing and loving-kindness meditation can change the brain’s circuitry. This helps one to not only develop a more optimistic outlook but to also rebound quickly from a stressful situation.3
Focusing and bringing your thoughts and feelings to the present moment lets you re-frame challenging situations. You’ll then no longer see these as insurmountable but as something you can overcome with the right response.
When faced with a challenge, the mind starts to ruminate incessantly. This can send you into a downward spiral of anxiety, stress, and depression. Meditation is a helpful practice that stops the fixation on a negative event and allows you to have a more optimistic outlook.
How to Practice Meditation for Emotional Resilience
There are plenty of meditative practices to try. Many of these can deliver great results in getting you attuned to your thoughts and feelings.
One technique that can build emotional resilience and that you can seamlessly integrate into your daily routine is the intention-setting meditative practice.
Here’s how to get started:
- When you wake up in the morning, sit on your bed or chair: Get into a relaxed posture, keeping your spine straight.
- Focus on your breathing: Close your eyes and take three long, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Listen to yourself breath; focus on the in and out sensations of your breath.
- Set an intention: If you are currently facing a difficult situation, ask yourself what your intentions for the day are. Set a positive intention that will help you bring your best self forward to be able to cope with the challenge. It could be something as simple as, “Today, I will stay grounded’’ or anything else you feel you could do to cope with the day’s challenges.
- Check In: Throughout the day, take some time to reflect on the intention you set in the morning. Just the act of bringing your thoughts back to your intention can help shift your perspective. This allows you to re-frame and cope with any challenges you might encounter.
Develop A Sense of Optimism
Optimism is often shunned as a “woo-woo” concept. But, plenty of evidence shows that the ability to see opportunities in stressful situations is the difference between people who are good at bouncing back and those who are not.4
People with resilience are inevitably optimistic. They are the ones who choose to see the glass as half-full. They are not deniers of reality—they accept reality for what it is but they also realize that under every cloud lies a silver lining.
It is important to understand that resilient people experience stress, anxiety, and fear just as non-resilient people do. However, the major difference is that resilient people are in touch with their own complex emotional dynamics. They can quickly re-frame situations to look at the positive side of things.
Optimism, like all the other traits of resilient people, is something you can build up slowly through consistent practice. When faced with a difficult situation, stop and ask yourself:
- What opportunity lies in this situation?
- Are there things I can learn from this situation?
- What is good about this situation?
Sometimes, the answers may not come immediately. However, asking these questions will help shift your perspective and your emotions around the situation. This leads to clarity, which in itself is so crucial when it comes to coping with challenges.
While pessimism limits your possibilities, optimism in the face of hardship has a way of opening you up to opportunities that you never thought possible.
Every so often, life will present us with challenging situations. This is inevitable. Learning how to develop a strong sense of emotional resilience will help you navigate and overcome the most adverse of circumstances.
If you typically struggle to bounce back from stressful situations, consistent practice and deliberate effort are necessary if you are going to become emotional resilient.
Every challenging situation that comes your way is an opportunity. You can now focus and get in touch with your emotions, shift your locus of control to an internal one, and build a sense of optimism so you can find the silver lining in every cloud.
- Kautz, Marin et al. “Neuropeptide Y, Resilience, And PTSD Therapeutics”. Neuroscience Letters, vol 649, 2017, pp. 164-169. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2016.11.061. Accessed 17 Apr 2019.
- Tlalka, Stephany. “How Science Reveals That “Well-Being” Is A Skill – Mindful”. Mindful, 2016, https://www.mindful.org/science-reveals-well-skill/.
- Davis, Daphne M., and Jeffrey A. Hayes. “What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research.”. Psychotherapy, vol 48, no. 2, 2011, pp. 198-208. American Psychological Association (APA), doi:10.1037/a0022062. Accessed 17 Apr 2019.
- Smith, Emily. “The Benefits of Optimism Are Real”. The Atlantic, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/03/the-benefits-of-optimism-are-real/273306/.