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How to Build Emotional Resilience

What is Emotional Resilience

Emotional resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back when something difficult happens in our lives. More resilient people ‘roll with the punches’, adapting to adversity without lasting difficulties, while less resilient people find it harder to cope with stress and change.

Why is Emotional Resilience Important?

As well as helping us handle experiences that would otherwise overwhelm us, emotional resilience enables us to maintain balance in our lives during difficult or stressful periods. Crucially, strong emotional resilience can also protect us from developing certain mental health difficulties and issues.

Back to Basics

If you want to develop more emotional resilience, start by addressing your overall sense of wellbeing. You need a solid foundation to work from, so basic things like getting enough sleep, eating well, moving your body, and building a consistent daily routine are vital. Self-compassion is also key. You can read more about this valuable skill here.

It’s important to connect with other people too. Humans are social beings with an innate need to feel part of a community. Millions of years ago, our survival depended on us being socially connected, so when we become isolated, we feel unsafe and vulnerable.

Feeling supported and cared for also increases emotional resilience, so if you’re dealing with a stressful situation or crisis, it’s a good idea to lean on your community and ask for help.

Practice Positivity and Lean into Difficulty

Positive emotions are like muscles; if you don’t use them, you’ll lose them. You can practice developing positive emotions by thinking about how you want to feel and where you’d experience that feeling in your body. It’s not just about thinking positively, it’s about developing and practising the positive emotional environment internally. The American psychiatrist, Rick Hanson, talks about this in terms of achieving lasting happiness here.

We often aim to avoid negative emotions, but for emotional wellbeing and resilience, we need to experience and tolerate the whole range of emotions. The more we block or avoid things, the more difficult they become because we never develop any coping mechanisms.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘what you resist persists’? There’s a lot of truth to this idea. For example, when we try to avoid feelings of anxiety, the brain tunes into them even more because we must first notice anxiety in order to push it away. When we’re open to experiencing and dealing with it, the brain sees anxiety as less of a threat.

Mindfulness helps us be in the moment and creates space for us to experience emotions. When we’re not being mindful, we’re often busy thinking about what we need to do or what we should have done. People who struggle with emotional resilience tend to spend too much time in their mind, trying to think their way out of things. To process certain emotions like grief, we need to feel and work through them.

Cognitive Flexibility

Our thoughts impact how we feel and what we do, but thoughts aren’t facts, they’re just thoughts. Our emotions come from the limbic part of the brain and they’re not always connected to logic. For this reason, developing good cognitive flexibility can also help strengthen your emotional resilience. When something feels challenging or difficult, try asking yourself five times whether there’s another way of thinking about it.

Journaling is a great way to process what happens to us each day and assess our patterns of thinking over time. Writing can be just as good as talking, and like a 24-hour-therapist, it’s something that’s always there for you.

Remember to journal the good things too. Ask yourself what’s going well and what you’re feeling grateful for. This can help you identify restorative activities and emotionally draining ones. It’s easy to spend too much time doing chores and not enough time doing things that nourish and restore us. For obvious reasons, prioritising the latter will help make you more resilient.

If you’re new to journaling, The CBT Journal is a good place to start. Blending elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with the practice of journaling, it’s designed to make you more aware of how you think, feel and act. This process encourages reflection and enables change, helping you cultivate the best version of yourself.

How Emotionally Resilient Are You?

If you’ve found this blog interesting and you’d like to learn more, sign-up to my monthly email to receive a free 10-page guide on building emotional resilience. It covers everything I go through in the first few CBT sessions with new clients. I look forward to having you as part of the community – here’s the link.

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.