Life has its ups and downs, constantly offering lessons that challenge you to grow. Yet there are difficult situations in life that are hard to navigate emotionally.
When you feel you’ve lost so much, how do you keep going? Increasing emotional resilience will transform your life in challenging times. Here’s how to boost your own resilience.
- Focus on the Bright Side
Be optimistic, but also choose to be realistic about your circumstances. Emotional resilience is shown by many survivors of life-threatening and traumatic events in the way they find a balance between optimism and realism.
The key is to maintain a positive self-regard when faced with outer challenges. Monitor any of your automatic thoughts that frame the situation as hopeless or that self-blame. Focus on positive expectations for the future.
Any small, positive detail will open your eyes to the proverbial silver lining. A rainy day means a day of rest. A loss of a job means an opportunity to reassess your future and pursue a career path you’ve always had a passion for.
- Challenge Your Fears
It sounds cheesy, but it’s true: You must face your fears to overcome them. Most of the time, you end up dwelling on a worst-case scenario or letting anxiety build. When you learn to face your fears head on, you become mentally and emotionally resilient to your fears.
You don’t have to do it all at once. Systemically challenge your fears, step by step, through exposure therapy. Start with small fears that aren’t super scary to your psyche, and work on practical steps to slowly challenge fears. If you’re afraid of spiders, watch a video of a spider — use your imagination to see yourself appreciating a spider’s web and its function in nature when it catches other inspect pests. Visualization helps to desensitize the mind and body from fear.
- Focus on What’s Sacred to You
Trauma may cause previous believers in a faith to question the existence of any higher power. What purpose does their experience serve? Why was it a loved one’s time to go? What’s sacred to the individual is blocked by grief or anger.
Spirituality isn’t restricted to religion or belief in a god or gods. Spirituality also encompasses the scientific workings of nature and an appreciation for its beauty, which includes philosophical understanding. What is sacred to you? What practices do you have to tap into what drives you?
Spirituality and religious practice have promising effects on healing for trauma survivors, especially for sufferers of PTSD or depression. Healthy spirituality is linked to lowered symptoms and clinical issues among trauma populations. Anger and desires for revenge are soothed by forgiveness and through spiritual practice and belief. When sufferers have a spiritual community, they find a place where there is connection to develop coping skills and a way to make meaning out of the experience.
- Develop a “Moral Rudder”
Emotions are often metaphorically described as a sea, and a rudder is needed to navigate those waters. Moral development expert Darcia Narvaez says that if someone was not nurtured or brought up in a safe environment, they’ll develop an insecure attachment style.
This person will be more guarded and develop a “safety ethic,” in which survival and self-protection are the individual’s default mode in tough situations. It’s a type of fight or flight mode, where the person may be defensive, shame others or become difficult to communicate with. On the other end of the spectrum, this person becomes overtly submissive and passive or retreats inward to self-preserve.
Develop coping techniques to calm your emotions, such as meditation or visualization. Seek out individuals and professionals who will help you transform self-preservation beliefs into more trusting and interpersonal beliefs.
Ask yourself why you feel defensive: Is it warranted? Empathize with others and yourself. Develop a moral rudder that guides you at the right pace (not too quickly) and sees situations realistically, while letting you voice your truth.
- Seek Out Social Support
Having social support can be a lifesaver, whether they’re friends, family, spirituality, social clubs or support groups. People who have access to such groups are shown to be less vulnerable to premature death and cope more with deep stressors such as job loss, illness or rape. Heart disease patients have higher survival rates if they possess a wide support network.
Social support comes in many forms, from active listening to offers to clean an ill person’s home. Lending an ear or helping someone to run errands may seem like small acts, but they are not.
- Find Personal Resilience Superheroes
Is there a childhood hero or a family member you look up to for their ability to traverse traumatic experiences? Comics, books and TV shows tell stories that its audiences relate to and help them interpret and process their own experiences. Having a superhero as a role model is not purely a form of escapism. Your superhero may be your single mom, who worked two jobs to support you. Your superhero may be Oprah or Gandhi.
Surround yourself with their words, memories and wisdom. Seek comfort in their examples. If they can overcome, you can, too.
- Move Your Body
What do you do when you’re dwelling on an issue? Your body models itself after your mind’s state and becomes lethargic and unmotivated. Shake up the equation by reversing it. Get your body moving!
Exercise is linked to emotional resilience, as it lowers your heart rate, your blood pressure anxiety and any acute stress, if you are active at least once a week. Take a walk in the park and do a few asanas in the morning.
- Buff up Your Brain
Learning benefits your health at any age. Health declines associated with trauma and aging, such as forgetfulness, can be boosted or reversed to some degree through continued learning. After a woman turns 65, she faces a 36 percent higher mortality rate if she didn’t pursue a higher education beyond a high school diploma. Pursue hobbies you are passionate about, and take classes in new subjects. Make time for the books and podcasts you’ve been meaning to catch up on.
- Be Flexible
Cognitive flexibility allows you to adjust your perspective of a situation and roll with the punches of life. This ability allows you to negate the effects of stress and psychological effects of trauma. Researchers have identified four aspects of cognitive flexibility: salience detection/attention, working memory, inhibition and switching. These aspects are still under research but show that several regions of the brain must work together to achieve cognitive flexibility. Individuals with disorders such as autism have a difficulty with flexible behaviors in daily life (cognitive inflexibility) and going with the flow.
Let’s take Rob Mericle for example, his cognitive flexibility denotes an ability to move from one task to another effectively, and the more of this that he has, the more he can achieve personal bests by being an innovative leader in his industry.
Children with excellent cognitive flexibility are better readers and have more resilience in adulthood. It’s important to engage in activities that support and nourish this ability.
- Find Meaning
When you focus on finding meaning in a situation and in your life, you are able to focus on the bigger picture. A macrocosmic perspective helps you to view the world beyond the existing situation and its consequences. The negativity in the world dims in response to the brightness you can find in the meaning within your life.
For many, meaning and life purpose are about giving instead of reaching success. Find meaning in your life by taking time to give to yourself and to others.
When difficult situations occur in your life, it can be hard to move forward. Often, you feel stuck, powerless and weak. Trauma and emotionally-challenging situations do serve to make you stronger and build emotional resilience.
Increase emotional resilience by reaching out to support networks, laughing, learning, being active and finding meaning in your life. Humans must socially connect to survive and live life as fully as possible. Resilience is about not going it alone.
Anum Yoon is a personal finance and business writer who is passionate about helping people earn more and spend less. When she’s not talking about money, she’s looking for ways to inspire and motivate others to pursue their career goals.