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How to Build Emotional Resilience

Curiously, the hardest times may come when we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the current context of pandemic and lockdowns, the return to a normal life is not out of sight but sufficiently out of reach to generate frustrations, disheartened feelings and wanting to give up.

A year of restrictions has had its toll on our emotional resilience as well as on our anticipation for better days. While we are in the grasp of strong negative emotions, it may seem difficult to build any resilience. It is possible though, and this is a thought you should bear in mind if you are experiencing excessive negative thoughts.

We cannot deny that we are not equal in the face of adversity. Some of us are more affected than others. Some seem to have an unshakable ability to pick themselves up, keep their chin up and carry on as if nothing happened! Maybe these people have developed a fantastic set of coping skills? Science seems to indicate that anyone can develop them.

It starts with a simple observation: my emotions do not define me. I may experience fear, anxiety or anger for example, it does not mean that I am constantly fearful, anxious or angry. I was not born with these; I have picked them up during my life journey. We all experience negative feelings at various times in our lives. This is fine as long as we do not let them take over our lives. Paradoxically, the best way to deal with them is to accept them. You can tell yourself: it’s okay to feel this way, it’s normal, this is part of my life journey. Fighting negativity will only bring more of it in the form of anger, frustration, and despair. Practising deep breathing (breathing from the diaphragm), focusing on the slow rise and fall of our stomach, is a great way to dissolve negative thoughts and feelings. But we first need to accept their presence in our mind and body. Allow them to be present as you breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly. Visualising ourselves sending our breath into the different parts of our body where they arise can be very effective too.

When you feel you are being dragged into a whirlpool of negative thoughts and emotions, apply the brakes:

  • Acknowledge your mind is going in the wrong direction by following these negative thoughts.

  • Focus on filling up your lungs with plenty of air and stretching your diaphragm (below your ribs) to release the tensions you have accumulated in this area. Breathe out slowly, take more time breathing out than inhaling. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that takes care of relaxing you after stressful events).

Only then you will be in the right state to replace these negative thoughts and feelings by more positive, helpful ones. It is a conscious, firm change of direction for the better.

Also, remember that negative events in your life are short-term situations. This will help you move on more easily. Those who view negative situations as being temporary will be more likely to see those situations as speed bumps in their lives.

If you tend to let one bad event spread its negativity to your whole life, focus on nipping negative thoughts in the bud before they become giant fires and very difficult to put out. Do not dwell on them, accept them (and accept that you are only human like the rest of us). They are life challenges and opportunities to learn about yourself and build a stronger, more resilient self. Accept that things may not work out fine the first-time round (why should they?). Acknowledge the small victories: today I managed to go for a walk for 20 minutes. My target is to walk 30 minutes every day but hey, it’s 20 more minutes than yesterday! Just because you do not get something done the first time does not mean you won't get it done at some other point in the future.

Try seeing new challenges as adding new strings to your bow; or new crayons adding colours to your rainbow. Rome was not built in a day.

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