Emotional resilience is our ability to cope with stressful situations and adapt to life’s ups and downs. Becoming emotionally resilient doesn’t mean that you’ll never be stressed again. Life has a habit of challenging us no matter how prepared for its pitfalls we might think we are. But emotional resilience does help us face adversity without being overwhelmed by it and dedicate our nervous energy to solving the issue rather than ruminating on worse case scenarios. 

It is reported that over 90% of what we worry about never happens. That means that our negative worries have less than a 10% chance of being correct. If this is so, isn’t being positive more realistic than being negative? This can be tough to remember when you’re facing divorce, or redundancy, or you’re enveloped by grief. 

Stress though is essentially fear. Like anger, fear can be a useful emotion that advises us to take action. But fear that we won’t be able to take any effective action is mostly unfounded. Without emotional resilience we stop believing that we can deal with challenges. Instead we ‘catostrophize’, exaggerating dangers that haven’t yet happened, and can’t pull ourselves out of that tailspin. Usually, going through even the most testing times is not as bad an experience as dreading the possibility of them.

Many people do not trust themselves to cope. Unfortunately, this is often a product of their childhood. Instilled in their psychologies is a sense that their core personality is at fault – a state known as ‘toxic shame’ – and they “should know better” but don’t. They’re burdened a sense of desperation, believing they will always be inadequate somehow – which makes them angry.

Some of us prioritise avoiding risk or stress. But, you get diminishing returns when you are restricted to your comfort zone. Never challenging oneself does not build emotional resilience; indeed it depletes it. Neither does positively reinforcing our self-image by comparing ourselves to others. Claiming that our life choices and innate resourcefulness are superior may help to keep worry at bay. But it does not build emotional resilience either and we eventually find this out the hard way.

Four ‘stressors’ we often see are: not feeling in control, not trusting ourselves, prioritising others over ourselves, and being out of balance. Building our awareness of these psychological aspects, and growing into them, can have huge impact on our emotional resilience. 

Those of us who appreciate life are probably best placed to deal with stress. When you’re in a hole, it’s difficult to be positive. But considering “What’s life trying to teach me now?” really is the best way to approach building emotional resilience. Equally, “Bring me solutions, not problems” has become a management cliché but it remains a very positive approach to thinking as much as it does to work. 

Sharing issues in a group can be surprisingly therapeutic. Biologically it helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system that calms us down. Moreover, listening to others helps us to be objective – studies show that when we see beyond our own circumstances we often conclude that we aren’t in so bad a spot after all, no matter what the details demonstrate. A healthy sense of meaning and purpose springs from seeing beyond one’s own circumstances.

Mindful activities that put us ‘in the moment’, such as meditation and competitive sport, help for acknowledging this. In meditation, we learn to observe our thoughts. We discover how scattergun and conflicting they are – how they do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of our core self. Honing our sense of gratitude too can have huge impact – over time, especially. We’re taught to always be striving for more, when it’s possible to be grateful for a roof over our head, dinner and a warm bed. Appreciation builds both happiness quotients and emotional resilience.

In our darkest moments it can be difficult to think like this. But as anyone who’s hit ‘rock bottom’ will tell you, there’s a perverse optimism to it. The only way remaining to go is up, and we are given permission (as it were) to implement creative solutions to our plight. Often those of us who’ve been through tough times have at least the benefit of knowing that they did indeed get past them. Could we see the positive in the challenge? 

Doing so is at least easier once we can acknowledge the stories we tell ourselves, and how destructive they may be. Nebulously blaming our choices for the curved balls life throws at everyone and undermining our own self-belief

’What story should I be telling myself instead?’ is the question we are free to answer. It’s not easy to overturn years, decades even, of reinforced thinking, but if we focus on the reality of our lives, rather than the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves, we realise that we are entitled not be scared.