As a two-time cancer survivor, avid reader and writer, and someone who has dealt with the loss of numerous loved ones, I believe that I am, or have come to be, a resilient person. Maybe this personality trait stems from my childhood, where I was the only child of two hardworking immigrants and was often left to my own devices. The truth is, people have called me resilient, but I think I’m just emotionally strong when I need to be.
We all experience painful emotions, including anxiety, grief, and disappointment, but like anything else, we all respond differently, and some of us are simply stronger than others. Some situations, both personal and universal, can activate a huge surge of emotion. The pandemic and recent death of George Floyd are two examples of these types of situations. The question is, can we get past the emotions associated with them? Can we move on and learn from these experiences, or do we get stuck in the darkness of these feelings and get retriggered in the future by the negativity of these situations?
Those who are emotionally resilient are empathetic and feel pain, but not to the extent that they’re absorbed or consumed by it. They don’t become paralyzed by their emotions; they’re able to easily move on. For those who are less resilient, there are practices one can engage in to improve one’s sense of resiliency:
Increase your sense of self-awareness. Focus on what you’re feeling and be able to name it. Explore your emotions, acknowledging what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad. Perhaps begin a regular meditation practice as a way to deepen your sense of self-awareness.
Establish self-compassion. Each day, make sure to set aside some time for yourself, engaging in activities that bring you joy. Remind yourself of your strengths, virtues, and goals. Foster a sense of appreciation for all that’s good in your life, and consider writing in a gratitude journal on a daily basis.
Accept the reality of situations. Refrain from living in denial. If you deny what’s actually happening to you, you’re helping yourself in the short term, but chances are, the reality will come back to bite you. Denial, in fact, weakens you and makes you less resilient. If you accept situations, you confront them, talk about them, and acknowledge them. While this may be difficult, it is healing, transformative, and brings about a sense of empowerment.
Think positively. If you’re a chronic worrier, you will have difficulty being resilient because the negative thoughts will overpower the positive ones and bring you down.
Have a sense of purpose. Those who know their reason for living are often more resilient than those who are uncertain. They are also curious, are seekers, and tend to look for new challenges in their lives. If you’re unsure of your purpose, consider pulling out your journal to do some automatic writing and see what emerges. You might be surprised by the results.
Adapt to change. Those who are emotionally resilient know that life is not static and that change is inherent in life. Many people are uncomfortable with change, whether it’s personal or global, and they struggle to adapt. The fact of the matter is that being human means understanding that change happens. People are born. People die. People start new jobs and people leave jobs. Relationships begin and relationships end.
Unexpected change can get in the way of one’s plans. Those who have trouble with change tend to be resentful and disappointed in how life is unfolding. They might also feel overwhelmed. An example is my own mother, who worked as a receptionist in a hospital for 40 years. She was never an adaptable person, though, and when computers replaced handwritten charts, she refused to adapt. She was overwhelmed and anxious, resisting the opportunity to learn a new skill. She wasn’t even curious about how computers worked. Before long, she had to resign because she was unable to adapt to the changes. This resistance led to an even deeper sense of loneliness because now, in particular, she is disconnected from her family because she’s refused to use a cell phone, tablet, or computer in spite of my family’s attempts to get her one. But since she’s 90, we can’t really blame her at this point.
Emotional regulation is about being in control of your emotions, which isn’t always easy. It’s about rethinking your feelings about a situation and focusing on the positive. It’s about maintaining a healthy balance so that you’re not fearful or stressed out every time something unexpected occurs. You can become more resilient when you figure out ways to manage your stress, bring joy into your life, and engage in self-care. And there’s no time like the present to begin.
Diana Raab, PhD, is a memoirist, poet, blogger, speaker, and award-winning author of nine books. She’s been published in over 1000 publications. She frequently speaks and teaches on writing for healing and transformation. Her latest book is Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Visit: dianaraab.com.