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4 Ways to Build Emotional Resilience

Do you bounce back from challenging experiences?  Or do you get caught in a whirlwind of difficult emotions, feeling vulnerable, lost or out of control?  Emotional resilience is the ability to adapt well to stressful situations like challenging relationships, health problems, financial struggles and other crises.

Those with prior trauma histories can find resilience more challenging.  However, there are also those who despite their painful histories show incredible resilience.

Consider the following list of factors associated with resilience.

  • The capacity to make and carry out realistic plans.
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  • Good communication and problem solving skills.
  • The ability to manage strong feelings and impulses.

If you don’t feel particularly resilient and/or the above are not areas of strength for you currently, know that these skills can be learned.

4 ways you to build emotional resilience

1 – Practice self-compassion. 

According to Dr. Kristin, Neff, PhD, self-compassion is “an alternative to self-esteem that many psychologists believe is a better and more effective path to happiness.”

What if you applied the same concern and warm wishes for a friend’s suffering to your own suffering?  Imagine how you would be with that person in their time of pain and struggle. Consider your body language, words and energy towards that person.  Self-compassion is transferring that intention to yourself.  Research has shown that self-compassion not only reduces self-critical thoughts but the stress hormone cortisol.

2 – Slow down.

We have become a hamster wheel culture, some who run until they fall off the wheel in sheer exhaustion.  Have you considered where you are running?  Notice your internal voice and belief systems.  Are you a human “doing” or a human “being?”  What’s the worse thing that would happen if you slowed down?  You might be surprised to learn what you’ve been missing.  Perhaps there are important relationship that aren’t being tended to.  Maybe self-care has been long missing.

A need to move too quickly through life to do the things you “have to” do might be triggering a fight-or-flight response, leading to overreactions and irritability.  Over time, the cortisol released in your body as you run through life in a state of alarm has the potential to negatively impact their health.  Why sound the alarm when you don’t need to?  Save it for a real emergency!

3 – Practice gratitude.

“Gratitude optimizes our functioning as human beings, and provides an essential foundation to our personal well-being,” says Linda Graham, MFT.  Research has demonstrated a long list of benefits of practicing gratitude including:

  • Helps block toxic emotions like envy, resentment, regret, hostility and depression.
  • Brings closure to unresolved traumatic memories.
  • Improves longevity (by 7-9 years).
  • Strengthens social ties (people feel more connected to people, less lonely and isolated).

Being grateful doesn’t mean ignoring the things in your life that need your attention but rather taking in and noticing what is good.  It can be be as simple as the warm feelings you feel for a friend to a beautiful flower you never noticed outside your office window.

4 – Practice humility.

Many seek to build their egos via recognition.  According to Rick Hanson, PhD, “Humility embodies wisdom.  It recognizes that everyone, including the grandest, is humbled by needing to depend on a vast web – of people, technology, culture, nature, sunlight, and biochemistry – to live a single day.  Fame is soon forgotten…With humility, you pursue excellence, not fame.”

When we seek excellence, we don’t have the same attachment to the outcome as when we seek fame.  We simply do the best we can.

One additional thought that is important to consider is doing some kind of family of origin work if your early life could use some unpacking.  It’s important to remember that we often develop a sense of selves and the world around us in this critical time.  If you didn’t hatch and develop in a “secure nest,” it might be worth looking into.

Lastly, you can learn more about the neuroscience aspect of  emotional resilience in the Neuroscience of Resilience Series.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of LoveAndLifeToolbox.com with tools for emotional and relationship health and is the author of Therapy-At-Home Workbooks® for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MensHealth.com and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers online therapy to residents of California.

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