Something that I heard a lot of when I was having CBT and in the depths of my anxiety was 'emotional resilience'. Back then this was a slightly mysterious term to me and didn't mean much. Since then, however, it has become one of the most important things I improved on. and it's come in handy when faced with life's next challenge...a global pandemic.
At the moment, being resilient is a pretty important characteristic. The world is a scary place right now. Things you could do before you can't and the things you can, have been altered and made even more scary than usual. For someone with anxiety it feels like the the monopoly board of a world has been flipped up and the pieces have all landed in unfamiliar places. This new unfamiliarity of new social rules and norms can be incredibly anxiety inducing for someone that already suffers with social anxiety. This is where emotional resilience comes in.
What is emotional resilience?
Emotional resilience refers to a persons ability to adapt to stressful situations. If you are more resilient you are more likely to be able to deal with stressful situations, both minor and major, in a better way and without lasting difficulties than someone that is less resilient. Therefore, this is a real benefit for both daily life and more major catastrophes.
Can it be developed?
Emotional resilience doesn't always come naturally, it certainly didn't with me. You may be predisposed to be more or less resilient, i.e things may just naturally affect you more or not, but it is a trait that can be developed. 10 years ago I would say I was incredibly non-resilient, the littlest thing that may have caused me anxiety would replay over and over in my mind and I'd be unable to move past it. Now I am much more able to 'bounce-back' from minor issues because I have worked on it.
This is not to say you don't want to be affected by anything! Major incidents will always affect someone depending on the severity of the situation, but here I am talking more about things that really shouldn't be causing you such distress. A minor thing that most people might laugh off. It is a 'bend but not break' scenario.
How can we develop emotional resilience?
For me, one of the main things that has helped me improve my emotional resilience is a sense of balance. We all need to feel balance in our life, between work and home, being social and being alone, happiness and sadness. We need a bit of all of it to feel good about our lives. And like all elements of our lives, emotional resilience needs a balance of tree things.
Involving feeling healthy, physically strong and energetic.
This can include things like self-esteem, self-confidence and self-awareness.
Communications and interpersonal relationships.
Working on these three things will improve your ability to handle stressful situations in a much more positive light and learn from them and move on, rather than relive them and get more and more stressed.
My top tips for improving your emotional resilience
Everyone is different and I will always be a sensitive person and this is not a bad thing. But I have managed to improve my resilience so I am able to deal with situations that I would have found overwhelming in a much healthier way. Here are my top tips for how to improve your emotional resilience at a time it might be being put to the test.
Practice your self-worth and self-awareness
As long as you are doing your best, that is enough. And sometimes we all need to remember that we are human, no one is amazing and feeling great 100% of the time. Remember it is okay to say no to things and do what you want to do. Be aware of your emotions and be at peace with them.
Another thing that can be very effective, but hard to master if you've spent all your life having negative thoughts, is turning those negative thoughts into more constructive ones. Rather than, 'I made a mistake, I'm a failure and everyone will think I'm stupid', say to yourself, 'I made a mistake, but I'm only human, everyone makes mistakes and I have learnt from it.'
Get some exercise
I do yoga most, if not everyday. Sometimes, it can be a real struggle to get up that half an hour earlier or block out half an hour after work, but it really helps me workout any feelings of stress and anxiety, thus making me feel more able to deal with stressful situations in a more balanced way. Even just going for a short walk can really help.
Now, I will be the first person to say I am not a socialite. I'm an introvert and much prefer one on one conversations to large groups of people. But if you know that then don't be afraid to do just that, speaking to someone alone can give you more chance to open up and be yourself if you know you get anxious in group situations. But it's important to talk to people and build a support network around you.
Doing something you enjoy and perhaps even something that you can improve on will make you feel good about yourself. Just completing simple tasks can give you a sense of achievement and this in turn gives you a much needed boost of confidence.
In conclusion, being resilient is an important skill, but never more so than at the moment. But the main thing is so be kind to yourself and listen to yourself and you can slowly learn to deal with stressful and anxious situations in a much healthier way.
In this article I have drawn heavily on my own experiences with anxiety and emotional resilience, but I have also taken insights from other places and will leave links to some helpful sites below.
For even more information about emotional resilience see below:
‘Emotional Resilience: How To Safeguard Your Mental Health’ - a book by GP and CBT expert, Dr Harry Barry.