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7 Steps to Emotional Resilience

Oct 27 2020
11 min read
Woman smiling while meditating.

Have you ever marveled at how well some people seem to rebound from traumatic or stressful events? How do they do that?

Experts say it’s all about emotional resilience. And while some people make it look easy to spring back stronger after experiencing loss or tragedy, I can assure you, it never is. Canyon Ranch experts have outlined seven steps that will strengthen your emotional resilience. When you incorporate these changes into your life, you will begin to feel stronger and more capable to flow with life’s challenges, and better able to handle anything that comes your way. What Booker T Washington said in 1895 is still true today: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles for which he has overcome.” Here’s to overcoming, growing, and thriving from the challenges in our lives. This does not happen just from wanting to, however. In the same way you would create a workout program to stay physically fit, consider taking the time to write down an emotional resilience plan that incorporates each of these elements:

Nutrition

Eating small meals every few hours and maintaining a healthy diet prevents dramatic changes in blood sugar that 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 nutrients: Vitamin D (found in salmon, canned tuna, and fortified juices and milks) is linked to the production of mood-influencing serotonin; and 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.

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.

Exercise

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. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, (daily if possible) to help you feel calmer, more energized, and positive. This will help you better cope with stressful and challenging situations.

Your Plan: Write down when you’re going to work out and what you plan to do. This affirms your commitment and helps you stay focused. Think about any additional resources you’ll need to make it happen:

  • Would you benefit from working with a personal trainer?
  • Do you need to buy running shoes or exercise equipment?
  • Do you want to ask someone to exercise with you?
  • How can you make it fun?
  • When do you plan to exercise?

Sleep

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. The objective is to wake up feeling refreshed and with enough energy to not vital, not drowsy during the day. When you log too-few hours of sleep, you’re at risk for weight gain, dragging memory, and poor motor function. Those who are sleep deprived area also less likely to effectively manage sadness, anger, and other feelings, so fall prey to reactivity.

Your Plan: Consider how you can enhance the quality of your sleep and get the rest you need by detailing your slumber routine. Find ways to relax and wind down before bed, such as limiting screen time, and enhancing your environment with soothing music. Find something that helps you relax: reading, sifting through photos, a bubble bath, sketching, for instance. Experts say to avoid eating heavy meals too close to bedtime and to limit alcohol consumption. Lastly, if you’ve discussed taking sleep aids with your doctor, include those in your written plan.

Light

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. So if you’re worried about too much sun exposure, as little as 15 to 20 minutes in the sun is all it takes.

Your Plan: If you spend most of your time indoors, think about how you can get the bright light you need, then commit to when and where you plan to do this.

Breathing

Slow, controlled, rhythmic breathing can have a profound effect on the central nervous system — which plays a big 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. If a “breathing practice” sounds a bit uncomfortable to you, just remember that it’s all about taking a few deep breaths. If you feel anxiety creeping in, find a quiet spot in your house (or car, or closet of your office!) and take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing your belly to round, ribs to expand, and lungs to fill fully. Hold at the top for five counts. Then exhale out of the mouth slowly and mindfully, and image steam puffing out of a kettle. Imagine the steam holding all the anxiety, fear, self-doubt, anger inside of you. Do this five times to settle your energy. Think of these as “adult time outs” that you do before having that conversation with your boss, your child, your significant other, etc. The breathing will give you distance you need to garner a better perspective and to better handle (or not to, by letting go of) whatever you face. You can even use exercises to defuse a negative mood in the moment. You can use these techniques during low times.

Your Plan: Determine when you can fit learned techniques into your schedule. Many find a morning and evening practice restorative. You may also find planned “breathing breaks” throughout the day helpful and necessary. When you incorporate these, take notes in a journal about the wonderful ways relationships begin to shift in your life as you transition from reactionary, or controlling or fearful behavior, to more mindful, patient, responsive actions.

Mindfulness

Engaging in mindfulness — being more aware of what is happening in the here and now — helps you to accept difficult emotions, stress, and anxiety. It allows you to have more of an ability to accept those feelings and hold them in a compassionate way, without being fearful of them, or reacting to them. If you’ve ever found yourself binge eating, or drinking due to stress, it’s as if you’re trying to stuff your feelings down. Mindfulness teaches us that we are not our thoughts and we are not our feelings. We have thoughts and we have feelings. And from that place, we can detach and become the observer, which is our essence. When you can detach and observe, without judgement, you can accept that anger, jealousy, bitterness, are all normal. From there, we can accept ourselves and our place as human beings, and not take actions that are harmful to ourselves or others. 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 when you learn how.

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 dark chocolate or the smell of wild flowers, for example.

Gratitude

Reflect on how you can cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” in your life. When we appreciate the little things, we instantly lift our mood and our vibration. Think about it; even on dark days, we can choose to focus on what is working, flowing, and bringing us a little security or peace of mind. To better to make this shift, take a few minutes out of your day. Place your hands over your heart, bow your head, and think of the people, places, moments, projects that make time fly by, and little things that you are grateful for. Give yourself two minutes to picture these: a butterfly you saw that morning, your dog’s wagging tail, your daughter’s giggle, the tea a co-worker bought you, a smile from a stranger, a person who let you into the lane, your bed, food in the cabinet, having a shower, etc. When we focus on what works and flows in our life, we feel abundant, at ease, peaceful, and have the ability to attract more positive aspects into our lives. When we engage in complaining about that driver who cut us off, or what a jerk said, we enter into the negative vibration that trains our minds to seek out more of the same to comment on. Conversely, when we become aware of, and grateful for small blessings; such as a quiet, sunny spot to read in, a call from a friend, the purring of a cat, it trains us to better handle difficult times. When you see life through a more positive lens, it’s easier to find the silver lining or strike emotional balance, in dark moments.

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 might 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.