Recently I have been trying to help my 6-year-old son get through a difficult time in school.
It’s his first year in school (after kindergarten) and he been adjusting to many changes.
Mostly he takes it in his stride but one of his teachers is very strict, loud and in his words, “scary”. Twice in one week, he got so nervous it made him sick and even vomit.
So, like any worried parent, I tried to support him as best as I could and to prepare him to deal with his emotions as they happen. I have learned so much for this experience, it has really opened my eyes to the importance of emotional resilience.
I feel like if he learns to deal with his emotions, fears, and stresses correctly it will stand to him for the rest of his life.
Here’s what I learned so far…
What is emotional resilience?
Emotional resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful situations or difficulties. The more resilient you are the better you are able to deal with life’s stresses, both minor stresses and major stresses, and this leads to advantages in many aspects of life.
Some people are naturally more emotionally resilient than others.
Emotional resilience is influenced by many factors, many of which are not under our control, such as age, gender and trauma in life.
But emotional resilience can be developed and improved and those who practice and master resilience will be prepared for emotional emergencies and tough times.
The old metaphor apples here: resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane: they bend rather than break.
They have learned to be flexible rather than rigid, they learn the importance of not panicking while knowing that “this too shall pass”.
So what are the traits of emotional resilience and how do we develop them?
Perhaps the best place to start is with emotional awareness.
In short, this is a level of self-knowledge in regards to the psychological and physiological aspects of our lives AND some ideas about what the best corrective actions are when we identify them.
I cannot understate the importance of emotional awareness, some professionals even going as far as to say that it is ‘key to a person’s success in society.”
Over time emotional awareness develops into emotional intelligence and there are many things we can do to develop it:
1. Know your stressors
When you know what triggers stress on a personal level, then you can prepare yourself to do the next right thing and take the correct action.
If you already have this self-knowledge you don’t have to waste time stuck in the stress or negativity, instead of moving into action to improve the situation. In a very real sense, this can be developed in a similar way to muscle memory in athletics.
2. Manage your negative emotions
We all jump into negative emotions because that is the way most of us are wired. But when you are able to recognise your negative thoughts and have the ability to change them, you won’t get overwhelmed by them. In other words, you take the control and power of your thoughts and life.
3. Bounce back from adversity
Everyone faces adversity in life and it would be foolish not to have a game plan for it when challenges happen. Practice optimism instead of complaining. Ask constructive questions to see how you can adapt rather than shutting down and becoming non-active.
4. Be careful with vocabulary
Speech and form have a lot more influence than we realise. Specific words that help to communicate problems accurately immediately work to correct them.
5. Practice empathy
Whatever the situation try to take a few minutes and put yourself on the other side, or in the other person’s shoes. This will directly inform your next action and help to avoid making a stressful situation even worse.
Another trait of emotional resilience is optimism.
The source for optimism is self-awareness and experience.
In general, the unaware, emotionally untrained person moves towards pessimism, but clearly, optimism is more productive. Knowing your own personal strengths and staying fixed in optimism is mentally empowering, pushes away from depression and protects from a victim mentality.
Support from others tends to be another positive trait associated with emotional resilience.
Recent research has shown that people living in close communities live longer and happier lives. Community support could be church groups, sports groups, social groups etc.. anything that involves human connection and support. An emotional resilient person knows the value of social support and is open to both receiving and giving support.
An interesting ability with emotionally resilient people is a good sense of humour.
The ability to laugh at oneself, or at life’s difficulties can be a huge asset and can help to shift perspective from negative to positive. After all, life would be tragic if it weren’t funny. Humour can change the way the body deals with stress.
Whether you are religious, atheist or spiritual, most people can recognise the good advice in the Serenity Prayer which starts with
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” published in 1952 by Reinhold Niebuhr.
Emotional resilient people need to practice acceptance.
Acceptance embraces reality rather than denying it or repressing it.
It’s only in acceptance that we can move forward. We need the courage to create change in ourselves but that first requires a little emotional awareness.
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