One of the most common aspirations I hear from the clients I work with is wanting to become more emotionally resilient. But what is resilience, how do we build more of it and how do we know when we’ve achieved it?

What is emotional resilience?

According to Mind, “Resilience is not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing.”

Positive Psychology states that, “Emotional resilience is when you are able to calm your frantic mind after encountering a negative experience. It is intrinsic motivation, an inner force by which we can hold ourselves through all the downsides of life.”

So, you could say that emotional resilience is our ‘bouncebackability’ and refers to how we react in challenging situations. Let’s look at 2 examples using the same scenario: a delayed train. In the first example, Person A reacts badly to this delay. They huff and puff, use expletives, storm along the platform, wave their arms in the air and look for someone to complain to, i.e. shout at.

In the second example, Person B takes the news more calmly. They consider the knock-on effect this delay is likely to have on their day and work out the actions they need to take to manage this. They see the silver lining in the situation – perhaps that it gives them more time to catch up on their emails or that novel – and find somewhere to sit down and wait.

Which person do you think is happier? Which person gets more done? Which person would you rather be?

Building resilience

Although emotional resilience is an ‘inner force’, as Positive Psychology describes it, this force is not innate. It’s not an intrinsic part of our personality. It’s actually learned behaviour, which means it’s something we can work on and build within us. You could even think of it like a muscle: the more we use it, the stronger it becomes.

How emotionally resilient are you?

If you feel you’re not resilient enough and would like to build on this, try asking yourself these questions:

  • How do you know you’re not emotionally resilient?
  • What are you basing this opinion on?
  • What’s your default reaction in difficult situations?
  • Is there an emotionally resilient person you aspire to be more like?

The truth is, we can all be incredibly hard on ourselves. So, even if you don’t think you’re a resilient person, in reality you’re probably more resilient than you think. If you asked a close friend or loved one about your resiliency, what would they say?

Can you think of a time in your life when you were faced with a challenging situation? Maybe there was a crisis at work. Or someone was rushed into hospital. Perhaps you were travelling somewhere and there was an unexpected delay or incident. How did you react? What did you do? Did you freeze or collapse in a heap, not knowing what to do? Were you in denial, trying to pretend it wasn’t really happening? Or did you stay calm, take action or rush to the person’s aid?

Of course, different situations can induce different reactions in us, but if you think back over a few of these occasions, you might start to see a pattern. And you might realise you do at least have some emotional resiliency.

5 ways to become emotionally resilient

So, what can we do to build our emotional resilience further? Here are 5 qualities and practices that I think are super important, and that I aspire to work on every day.

5 ways to become emotionally resilient

Find acceptance

The first thing we need to practise in order to build our emotional resilience is acceptance. When we resist a situation, we expend unnecessary energy and cause ourselves unnecessary suffering. Think back to Person A in the delayed train example above. All that huffing, puffing, swearing and shouting will have used up lots of energy and probably made them feel more angry. For what purpose? Did it help the situation? No. And the only person who suffered in that scenario was them.

Person B, however, was able to accept the situation and think rationally about what to do next. They stayed calm and probably didn’t experience any suffering, apart from some mild irritation.

To practise finding more acceptance, keep these ideas in mind and reflect on them when the need arises:

  • Change is inevitable: the only thing we can rely on in this world is impermanence!
  • We’re not superhuman: we don’t need all of the answers all of the time.
  • It’s ok not to know: although it can be uncomfortable, sitting with uncertainty can be a  powerful practice.
  • Stay open to what arises: if we can stay open and receptive to whatever may arise, we’ll be ready and more easily able to adapt to adversity.

Be optimistic

Is your glass half empty or half full? Adopting an optimistic attitude can help us build emotional resilience, as it means we’re always looking on the bright side (here’s Eric Idle to remind you how to do that). No matter how dire or tragic a situation may seem at first, there’s always a silver lining to be found.

Even in a situation as painful as the death of a loved one, it’s still possible to find the blessing. I remember that a good friend of mine who lost her mother some years ago was able to experience this. Once she’d moved through some of her grief she was able to look back and reflect, and the silver lining of losing her mum was that it brought her closer to her dad.

You might think that being optimistic all the time is setting yourself up for disappointment. But, it depends how you look at it. Again, if something doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, is there a silver lining to be found? What’s the lesson that can be learned from this? No matter what the situation, there’s always an opportunity for growth.

Have presence

Being mindful definitely contributes to our emotional resilience muscle. If we can practise being fully in the present moment with non-judgmental conscious awareness, we can truly embody our thoughts and emotions. We can be completely in the now. We can be ready for whatever arises.

Living more in the present means we’re not constantly worrying about the past, ruminating over those ‘what ifs’ and dwelling on our regrets. It also means we’re not catastrophising about the future, imagining scenarios that haven’t even happened yet and may never do so.

Bringing mindfulness into our lives helps to give us a stronger sense of control – over our thoughts, our emotions and our life in general. Through mindfulness we also learn not to blame others when things or situations go wrong. We learn to accept what is and deal with it accordingly – just like Person B in our delayed train example.

Practise self-care

Self-care is not self-indulgent. In fact, it’s essential for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. We only have one body and one life (unless you believe in reincarnation), so we need to take good care of it.

What do you do to look after your physical wellbeing? Are you active? Do you exercise? Do you eat and sleep well?

How about your mental wellbeing? What do you do to relax or re-energise your mind? Are you an overthinker? What do you do to switch off? Do you meditate? Are you creative?

And what about your emotional wellbeing? How do you express yourself? Do you have people you can share things with? Do you feel heard? Have you tried journalling?

Looking after ourselves and getting to know ourselves better will give us a deeper insight into our needs and desires, and help us understand how we react to certain situations. And self-care is a practice, so it needs to be done on a regular basis, preferably every day. How can you start to bring some self-care practices into your daily life, however small?

5 ways to become emotionally resilient

Build a support network

The final piece in the puzzle of becoming an emotionally resilient person is to have a supportive network of friends and family around you. If you feel isolated, or you’re surrounded by toxic people, this will have a significant effect on your confidence, your self-esteem and your bouncebackability.

We need people around us who we know have got our back. Who will be there for us when we need them. Who are happy to listen to us, just as we are to them. Even if it’s only a few close contacts, this will help to buoy us up and remind us that we’re not alone, especially when we’re facing a crisis or difficult situation.

The people around us also help to shape our identity and our idea of ourselves. If we’re surrounded by people who aren’t our advocates, who are constantly telling us we’re not good enough – either explicitly or through more subtle messages – we’ll start to believe it. We’ll see ourselves as ‘less than’, we’ll put ourselves down and we’ll start to give up on life. So, choose to spend your time with people who make you feel good, who appreciate and celebrate you – warts and all!

Becoming emotionally resilient

If you’d like personal support and guidance to help you become more emotionally resilient, find out more about working with me and book a free discovery call.

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