In the past I used to often avoid difficult challenges. I would try and put them off for as long as possible. I had a deep seated fear that I wouldn’t be able to cope with whatever may be thrown at me. This would be especially pronounced when I had to give someone bad news. I would really go to great lengths to avoid doing it. I had very little faith that when the pressure or emotions were raised I would not be able to manage. I didn’t believe I had the resilience to cope in stressful situations.

This went on for years. Until one day I was introduced to the idea of emotional resilience. This opened my eyes to a new reality of how I could face difficulties knowing that I will be OK. So what exactly is this emotional resilience? I hear you cry. Well…

Emotional resilience is the ability to be at your best in stressful circumstances. It is the strength to bounce back when one has faced a difficult setback.

Psychology today have helpfully distilled down the idea nicely for us:

“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself… Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs… It’s possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent.”

So it is the art of being able to stay strong no matter what the external forces are upon you. The greatest thing about emotional resilience is that you can develop it at any point in your life. But how would you go about doing it? What actions can you take to enhance your emotional resilience?

1. Work on your self awareness

At the heart of this skill is the ability to be emotionally flexible. In order to succeed at this it is helpful to have a realistic idea of your own emotional strengths and weaknesses. By developing self awareness you become more adept at recognising subtle emotional cues in your well being. This means you know when you are doing OK or when you perhaps need to ask for help. Without this knowledge you remain ignorant of your needs. A lack of awareness can often lead to feeling the need to always stay “strong” in order to get things done. A state that can be thrown into turmoil when something unexpected is thrown into the mix. Through knowing oneself, you can remain emotionally flexible and available to react to the situation as you are experiencing it, rather than having expectations about a situation which are not met then not having the emotional skills to adapt.

2. Look at who you spend your time with

One of the most influential aspects on one’s behavior and emotional well being is the people they surround themselves with. If you are hanging out with people who are generally unsympathetic to your emotional needs or even mock you when you may need support, this is not going to help you develop any resilience. People who are emotionally resilient tend to surround themselves with people who listen to them, are compassionate towards them and actively support them when it is needed. A supportive friend network gives you the time and space to understand your emotions. Over time this will allow you to develop a greater depth of emotional resilience.

3. Embrace the silence

One thing that resilient people are not afraid of is silence. So often people surround themselves with activities to distract themselves, TV, games, drinking. All pleasant activities of course, says the man who consumes too much TV. Way too much. However, when the are done excessively they are simply distracting oneself from other things. This can often be a reaction to stress, I know my TV watching is. However, an alternative is to become mindful. Taking time to sit in silence, focus on your breathing, can have huge psychological benefits. Like many other things in this list, it allows you the space to process emotions and understand yourself more. Overtime this can develop a deeper resilience.

4. Learn to be kind to yourself

A strange phenomenon of the human condition is how brutally unkind we can be to ourselves. There are things we say in our head to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to another human. This trait of admonishing yourself for anything you do can have hugely detrimental effects on your resilience. It is important to cultivate an inner voice that is patient, kind and supportive. The kind of voice that you would use for a close friend or family member. It is important to learn to show yourself some love in order to help generate your emotional resilience.   

5. Get out of your own head

It’s not just the inner voice that dominates your inner world, it is also all those inner beliefs you hold about the world. By getting our of your head and considering different perspectives you can develop a more rounded understanding of stressful situations. When you are under pressure your thoughts can also drastically spiral out of control. Take the time to write everything down, just simply get it all out of there. This decluttering process can clear your mind and help re-establish your emotional balance.

Life can place us in many stressful and highly pressured situations. These don’t have to be as daunting as you may think they are. We can make a conscious effort to cultivate our emotional resilience in order to cope with life’s more challenging moments in a confident way.

What strategies do you have for developing your emotional resilience? How has it helped you?