8 - Developing Emotional Resilience

Developing emotional resilience 

Have you ever been put in a situation where you’ve had to deal with really difficult circumstances?

We’ve all had our emotional resilience tested, and sometimes it feels like you just want to give up – but that’s normal!

People who hold a higher degree of emotional resilience can handle the stresses that come with life more effectively, managing life's issues with ease. Fortunately, emotional resilience is a trait in everyones personality that can be grown and developed. Having high emotional resilience can transform your life and decrease stress that you may experience when at University. 

What is emotional resilience? 

Emotional resilience refers to your ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises. More resilient people are able to ‘roll with the punches’ and adapt to adversity without lasting difficulties; less resilient people have a harder time with both major and minor stressful situations and life changes.

Research shows that those who deal with minor stresses more easily can manage major crises with greater ease, so it has its benefits for daily life as well as the rare one-off occurrences. 


What influences emotional resilience? 

Emotional and physical resilience to a degree is something you’re born with. Some people by nature are less upset in certain situations which can be observed in infancy and tends to be stable throughout your lifetime.


Elements of emotional resilience

Emotional Resilience has three building blocks – these are the pillars on which we can build and develop resilience. Also referred to as the three dimensions of emotional resilience, they include:

  • The Physical Elements - Involving physical strength, energy, good health, and vitality.
  • The Mental or Psychological Elements - Including aspects like adjustability, attention and focus, self-esteem, self-confidence, emotional awareness and regulation, self-expression, thinking, and reasoning abilities.
  • The Social Elements - Including interpersonal relationships (university, part time-work, partner, parents, friends, community, etc), group conformity, likeability, communication, and co-operation.


Traits of emotional resilience

Resilience isn’t a quality that you either have or do not have, there are varying degrees of how well a person can handle stress when presented to them. Still, there are specific characteristics that resilient people tend to share. Here are eight we’ve selected to look out for and work on:


1.  Emotional awareness

People with emotional awareness understand what they are feeling and why. They understand the feelings of others better because they are more in touch with their own inner life. This type of emotional understanding allows people to respond appropriately to others and to better regulate and cope with difficult emotions such as anger or fear.


2.  Perseverance

Whether they’re working toward outward goals or on inner coping strategies, they’re action-oriented; they trust in the process and don’t give up. Resilient people don’t feel helpless or hopeless when they are facing a challenge. They are more likely to keep working toward a goal when they are faced with an obstacle.


3.  Optimism 

Resilient people also see the positives in most situations and believe in their strength. This can shift how they handle problems from self-pity to an empowered point of view, leading to more choices opening up.


4.  Support 

Social support plays a critical role in fostering resilience, in addition to improving overall mental well-being. While resilient people tend to be strong individuals, they know the value of social support and can surround themselves with supportive friends and family.


5.  Sense of Humour 

People strong in emotional resilience can laugh at life’s difficulties. This can be a tremendous asset, as it shifts one's perspective from seeing things as a threat to seeing them as a challenge, and this alters how the body reacts to stress. They also get a good laugh more often, and this brings benefits as well.


6.  Perspective 

Resilient people can learn from their mistakes (rather than deny them), see obstacles as challenges, and allow adversity to make them stronger. They can also find meaning in life’s challenges rather than seeing themselves as victims.


7.  Spirituality 

Being connected to your spiritual side has been linked with stronger emotional resilience, especially if you're internally connected and not just going through the motions of attending services. This doesn't mean that people who aren't spiritual can't be resilient, only that this connection has been found.


So how can you build your emotional resilience? 


Go back to basics

If you want to develop more emotional resilience, start by addressing your overall sense of wellbeing. You need a solid foundation to work from, so basic things like getting enough sleep, eating well, moving your body, and building a consistent daily routine are vital. Self-compassion is also key. You can read more about this valuable skill below.

Maintaining our mood plays an important role in resilience; life can be really busy and easily become all about studying; ensuring a balance of mood-enhancing activities. Simply by doing a few of the below will help improve your mood.


  • Listen to Music - Studies show that listening to music can leave you feeling happier, particularly when you are actively trying to improve your mood. 


  • Get Some Sun - If you’re looking to improve your mood fast, walking outside is one of the quickest and easiest ways to do so. 


  • Drink Coffee - Most die-hard coffee drinkers will attest to the almost instantaneous feeling of happiness experienced with that early morning cup of Joe. 


  • Brighten Someone’s Day - It’s no secret that when you perform small acts of kindness, you feel better. 


  • Eat (or Drink) a Healthy Snack


  • Breathe Deeply - Whether you’re stressed out, fatigued, or in a poor mood, a few minutes of deep breathing can give your body and mind a much-needed timeout. 


  • Recite an Affirmation - Self-affirmations can be used to affirm your self-worth and to decrease stress. 


  • Smell a Pleasant Scent


It’s important to connect with other people too. Humans are social beings with an innate need to feel part of a community. Millions of years ago, our survival depended on us being socially connected, so when we become isolated, we feel unsafe and vulnerable.

Feeling supported and cared for also increases emotional resilience, so if you’re dealing with a stressful situation or crisis, it’s a good idea to lean on your community and ask for help.


Practice positivity and lean into difficulty

Positive emotions are like muscles; if you don’t use them, you’ll lose them. You can practice developing positive emotions by thinking about how you want to feel and where you’d experience that feeling in your body. It’s not just about thinking positively, it’s about developing and practising the positive emotional environment internally.

We often aim to avoid negative emotions, but for motional wellbeing and resilience, we need to experience and tolerate the whole range of emotions. The more we block or avoid things, the more difficult they become because we don’t develop any coping mechanisms.

Mindfulness helps us be in the moment and creates space for us to experience emotions. When we’re not being mindful, we’re often busy thinking about what we need to do or what we should have done. People who struggle with emotional resilience tend to spend too much time in their mind, trying to think their way out of things. To process certain emotions like grief, we need to feel and work through them.


Develop a supportive inner voice

Having an inner critical voice makes us less emotionally resilient and is often a key maintaining factor for low self-esteem, depression and anxiety; it can also impacting our physical wellbeing.

Softening your inner voice to support you and coach you through difficult times will be the most helpful thing you can do for your psychological health, you will be more resilient to cope with what life throws at you; you will feel more in control and happier.


Consider journaling 

We go to the gym, we eat healthy food, we keep on top of learning, but so often we neglect investing any time in building resilience for our mind. Our mind is one of our most precious assets, and it also needs some nourishment. 

Journaling has proven results in reducing stress and building emotional resilience. A regular journaling practise will help you gain clarity about the situations and things that cause you to react emotionally – whether in a good way or a bad way! It’s only once you have this awareness that you’re able to actively engage with the things that make you feel good and disengage from those that make you feel bad.

With the increased self-awareness that comes from journaling, we develop increased choices about how we react to things and how we can support ourselves; this increases emotional resilience so we can bounce back when something difficult happens in our life.

Writing down how you’re feeling and what’s causing you to feel that way helps release the intensity of these feelings. The emotional and subjective right-side of the brain is instantly able to share the weight of your worries with the logical, rational left-side.


Cognitive Flexibility

Our thoughts impact how we feel and what we do, but thoughts aren’t facts, they’re just thoughts. Our emotions come from the limbic part of the brain, and they’re not always connected to logic. For this reason, developing good cognitive flexibility can also help strengthen your emotional resilience. When something feels challenging or difficult, try asking yourself five times whether there’s another way of thinking about it.

Journaling is a great way to process what happens to us each day and assess our patterns of thinking over time. Writing can be just as good as talking, and like a 24-hour-therapist, it’s something that’s always there for you.

Remember to journal the good things too. Ask yourself what’s going well and what you’re feeling grateful for. This can help you identify restorative activities and emotionally draining ones. It’s easy to spend too much time doing chores and not enough time doing things that nourish and restore us. For obvious reasons, prioritising the latter will help make you more resilient.


Regularly forgive yourself, and move on

Finally, a lack of emotional resilience often occurs when you hold onto grudges and regret. This type of mentality promotes anxiety, self-loathing and feelings of helplessness.

In contrast, deliberately forgiving yourself for the past gives you permission to move forward. Try to get into the habit of doing the following any time you're disappointed with yourself. 

First, identify what you're disappointed in, and why. Next, ask yourself how much responsibility you bear for the outcome. With respect to what you are responsible for, ask yourself what you'd do differently next time. Then, give yourself forgiveness, and be aware that you are progressing with valuable learning that makes your disappointments worthwhile. If it feels helpful, log what you’ve learned.

Regularly forgiving yourself gives you a sense of an emotionally clean slate, making it easier to cope with new stresses and diminishing fear of the unknown. In time, self-compassion should become second nature.