Emotional resilience is a quality that our society values in its role models and heroes. The action stars and superheroes we idolize repeatedly defeat whatever challenges come their way, no matter how perilous. Even though the average person will never be Arnold Schwarzenegger or Captain America, everyone can cultivate the emotional resilience necessary to overcome difficulties in life. Here are three practical methods for increasing your ability to thrive in a challenging world.
Your mind and emotions are deeply connected to your body. When your body is feeling good, it gives you the energy to withstand stress. When you are not feeling well, your ability to combat life’s pressures decreases. While it is well known that a healthy body builds a healthy mind, getting fit can be a real challenge when there are so many unhealthy distractions that are easily accessible. The bright graphics of fast food chains, the blinking lights of technological devices, and the endless rabbit holes of the internet are designed to be always available and utterly addictive – keeping you from more healthy actions.
But you have the power to fight back against the ensnaring marketing and algorithms! By avoiding these distractions and instead focusing on improving your diet and exercise habits, you can empower your mind and body to handle life’s challenges.
Establishing healthy habits is key to emotional resilience. Start one step at a time and focus on gradual improvements. James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, suggests designing your environment to favor beneficial habits and escape unhelpful habits. For example, Clear says to fill your kitchen with fruits and vegetables that you enjoy. Place healthy food in visible places and move unhealthy foods to inconvenient locations. A well-designed environment can be a great safeguard against poor eating habits.
Some basic principles to keep in mind when deciding what to eat include:
- Avoid shame-based attitudes towards eating and reframe nutritious foods as a form of self-care
- Focus on consuming unprocessed and natural foods, rather than dwelling on counting calories or carbohydrates
- Rediscover the joy of eating by paying attention to the sensations of eating and to the feelings of fullness
- Cultivate gratitude for the process of creating and receiving food as well as the experience of sharing it with loved ones
Exercise is another aspect of fitness that can be overwhelming to incorporate into daily life due to lack of time, money, or access. Luckily, there are free resources like the Johnson & Johnson app which guides you through a 7-minute exercise routine that targets all the major muscle groups without requiring any fitness equipment. If fitness apps are not your preference, you can also take classes at your local community center, visit hiking trails near you, or work out at home with a friend.
Taking good care of yourself means that when hard times inevitably come, a lack of energy, brain fog, or other physical ailments will not inhibit your ability to address the challenges effectively. Furthermore, prioritizing physical self-care prepares you for future challenges. It’s similar to investing money in a savings account: when there’s a catastrophe, you can use your savings instead of being forced to declare bankruptcy. Likewise, when life hardships occur, being in good physical shape means you’ll have the resilience needed to not drain yourself completely.
Organization is one of the most effective ways to preserve your much-needed energy. By getting organized, you can eliminate stressful clutter while transforming your workspace into a much more enjoyable environment. Organization can also help improve your work/life balance, as you will no longer be beset with forgotten-about tasks that eat up your precious time spent with loved ones or on personal passions. The fewer daily struggles you are required to wrestle with, the less overall strain you must endure – and with less strain, comes increased emotional ability to cope and recover.
In addition to all these benefits, organization is also an excellent way to improve executive function skills. Executive functions include the ability to overcome distractions, prioritize tasks, and strengthen impulse control. When you are organized, it is easier to stay focused. Plus, the more helpful habits and systems you have in place to manage chaos, the easier it is to be resilient when major challenges arise.
Dr. Eva Selhub, MD advises people to improve their organization with these tips:
- Create a master to-do list of all your tasks, then organize them by topic and prioritize them by importance and level of urgency
- Free up your mind by keeping up a notebook handy throughout the day to write down your thoughts
- Break big tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks and set deadlines for them
- Budget extra time for time-sensitive tasks, just in case
- Stay flexible because sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan . . . and that’s okay
Organization is a skill that is developed over a lifetime. It takes experimentation to discover what works best for your lifestyle at the moment. Sometimes different systems will be most effective at different times in your life. Organization is a way of automating your life so that you can get on with the process of living life rather than having to manually keep track of all your dates, tasks, and belongings. It can also provide a sense of achievement, self-satisfaction, and pride, which builds an emotional buffer against stress.
However, procrastination, fear, self-doubt, and other personal obstacles can impede getting organized. Remember that self-blame hinders your journey toward becoming the person you want to be. Instead, have some self-compassion as you continue to improve in areas like organization. Strong emotional resilience is not built in a single day but is rather the outcome of many healthy habits over time.
Developing healthy mental habits is essential to improving emotional resilience. Unhealthy behaviors, such as negative self-talk, constant dwelling on stressors, or pessimism, can cause feelings of unworthiness, hopelessness, and isolation. These feelings, if accepted as truths, encourage self-sabotage and despair, which disempowers you. One effective strategy to confront and overcome undesirable mental habits is to begin a mindfulness practice. However, “mindfulness” is a buzzword often thrown around without information about practical implications beyond activities like yoga or meditation. So what is mindfulness and how can it be achieved?
Mindfulness is all about cultivating awareness of your emotions, your physical state, and your immediate surroundings. Once you are aware of your presence in your mind, body, and environment, then you can begin to understand and accept yourself without judgment. This creates a basis for understanding what steps may need to be taken to address your needs, especially in times of crisis.
One simple mindfulness strategy is to take a moment of solitude to consider what you are feeling and how your emotions are affecting your body. Doing so can even relieve any stress you are experiencing. Greater self-understanding grants both physiological feelings of empowerment as well as the practical tools you need to truly overcome adversity.
The Mayo Clinic has some simple suggestions for incorporating mindfulness exercises into your daily life. Try:
- Body-scan meditation: Mentally scan your entire body, paying close attention to the sensations in each body part
- Walking meditation: Deliberately pace from one spot to another, concentrating on the motions of walking
- Sitting meditation: Sit in silence and focus on your breathing
Sometimes emotions can be so demanding that they require more than sensory awareness in order to be properly processed. In these cases, try:
- Journaling about your feelings
- Creating a gratitude list
- Illustrating your emotions by drawing, crafting, or the like
- Taking a long walk in nature alone
Also, it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes involving a trained professional is the best thing you can do for yourself and your family! Life can be complicated, but you don’t have to figure everything out on your own. A truly resilient individual is not afraid to take advantage of available support networks when necessary. Many organizations provide resources to check for mental health issues. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), Mental Health America (MHA), and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are among a few. Early intervention can make all the difference in building necessary life skills like emotional resilience.
You have the power to weather life’s difficulties by designing your environment to your advantage, instituting discipline into your daily life, and taking time to reflect and process. Once you’ve established healthy habits, you’ll be able to use your time and energy to benefit both yourself and others in your community. Recognizing the value of this, Educate. Radiate. Elevate.’s mission is to empower students by teaching them the skills necessary to thrive in school and in life, despite the challenges that they face.
To this end, E.R.E provides free education support for underserved communities in Illinois and Texas. Our trained professionals teach valuable academic skills, as well as soft skills like resilience, self-awareness, organization, and more. Soft skills can alter the lives of young people by giving them the tools they need to creatively problem solve, cope with hard times, and advocate for themselves and others. Register yourself or a student for the free tutoring program today!