Everyone experiences the occasional slump. Some of us tend to recover quickly, while others may find that their bad moods linger. Your ability to bounce back has a lot to do with your emotional resilience.
Yes, we said emotional resilience. Similar to how supporting your immune system can help you get better faster when you’re sick, you can take steps to actually improve your ability to get back to a more empowered place when you’re feeling down.
Much of that is rooted in these key emotional influencers. Tending to them as part of your regular wellness routine can help boost your immunity, so to speak, against gloomy days. Just as you would put fitness knowledge into action by creating a workout program to follow, consider taking the time to write down an emotional resilience plan that incorporates each of these elements. This printable worksheet can help.
Though some times are certainly tougher than others, you may find that making this effort helps you ride the smaller waves in life a bit easier than before.
Eating small meals every few hours and maintaining a healthy diet prevents dramatic changes in blood sugar that only perpetuate fatigue and irritability. Eat for energy by regularly aiming for meals and snacks that combine whole food carbohydrates with protein and healthy fat, and avoiding added sugars, chemical additives and trans fats (common in highly processed foods). Also pay attention to getting certain vitamins: Vitamin D (found in salmon, canned tuna and fortified juices and milks) is linked to the production of mood-influencing serotonin; vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid (present in greens, lentils and avocados) are essential for methylation, a process integral to the creation of neurotransmitters that help you stay balanced, notes Jeff Rossman, Ph.D., director of Life Management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass.
Your Plan: Begin to map out your meals. Make a list of the new types of food you’d like to buy, as well as any nutritional supplements you’ve discussed with your doctor.
Regular movement and aerobic activity release feel-good chemicals in your brain that help promote positive thinking. A dedication to exercise also gives you a consistent release of stress hormones like cortisol that, if left mounting, might otherwise keep you on edge. “We were made to move,” says Rossman. “A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week can help you feel calmer and more energized, which makes it easier to cope with stressful and challenging situations.”
Your Plan: Write down when you are going to work out and what you plan to do. This can help affirm your commitment and help you stay focused. Think about any additional resources you’ll need to make it happen:
- Would it help to join a gym?
- Would you benefit from working with a personal trainer?
- Do you need to buy exercise clothes or equipment?
- Do you want to ask one or more friends to exercise with you?
- How can you make it fun?
- When do you plan to exercise?
Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, though some may need a little more or less (the key is waking up feeling refreshed and maintaining enough energy to not feel drowsy during the day). Whatever your magic number, aim to meet it regularly: When you log too-few hours of sleep, you’re not only at risk for effects like weight gain, slower recall and poorer motor function, but you’re less likely to be able to effectively manage sadness, anger and other feelings. “Being well-rested gives you a cushion of alertness and well-being that helps you face challenges better than if you were sleep-deprived,” says Rossman.
Your Plan: Consider how you can enhance the quality of your sleep and get the rest you need by detailing your slumber routine, as well as ways to relax and wind down before bed. Noting reminders like ‘avoid eating and drinking close to bedtime’ and ‘limit alcohol and caffeine’ will help keep you on the right track. Lastly, if you’ve discussed taking sleep aids with your doctor, include those in your written plan.
Virtually everyone feels better when they’re enjoying a bright, sunny day. There are a few reasons why: As sunlight hits your eyes, it stimulates your optic nerve and boosts serotonin. Cholesterol actually begins to convert to vitamin D when rays hit your skin; the light also keeps your body clock (circadian rhythm) on a regular cycle, which helps you maintain a healthy sleep-wake pattern. “It doesn’t take that much time to take effect,” notes Rossman. “As little as 15 or 20 minutes of sun exposure a day can help.”
Your Plan: If you spend most of your time indoors, think about how you can get the bright light you need and commit to when and where you plan to do this.
Slow, controlled, rhythmic breathing can have a profound effect on the nervous system, which plays a role in how stress affects you. “A regular breathing practice can also cultivate an ongoing tendency to be calm, which helps you think more clearly and handle even the most uncomfortable situations in a more balanced way,” says Rossman. You can even use exercises to defuse a negative mood in the moment. “Keep your techniques in your back pocket for those low times.”
Your Plan: Determine when you can fit applying learned techniques into your schedule. Many find a morning and evening practice restorative. You may also find planned “breathing breaks” throughout the day helpful.
Engaging in mindfulness—being more aware of what is happening in the here and now with an attitude of acceptance—can enable you to better tolerate difficult emotions, stress and anxiety. “You have more of an ability to accept those feelings and hold them in a compassionate way without being hijacked by them,” Rossman notes. Meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong are great examples of mindful practices. Even everyday activities like eating and getting dressed can be done mindfully.
Your Plan: Think about opportunities when you can be mindful (dinner with the family, a stroll through the park) and raise your awareness of small details of your experiences—the savoring taste of your turkey, the smell of the flowers lining your walking path, for example.
Reflect on how you can cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” in your life. “When we appreciate even the little things, we instantly lift our mood,” says Rossman. “We are typically thankful for the big blessings, like our loved ones and our health. But you can even be grateful for your morning cup of tea or a deep breath of fresh air.” Doing this trains you to see life through a more positive lens, making it easier to find the silver lining or to find emotional balance in a dark moment.
Your Plan: You may want to set some time aside each day to write about what you feel grateful for, big and small blessings alike. You may choose to say grace before meals, or begin meetings by expressing appreciation to others who are present. Try to come up with new things you’re thankful for each day.