Build your emotional strength and be ready for anything life throws at you
Are you the kind of person who picks themself up from failure, sees mistakes as essential learning tools, and uses criticism or rejection to grow? If not, you need to work on your emotional resilience. “Emotional resilience is a tool which allows an individual to adapt well in the face of adversity,” agrees Uxshely Chotai, wellbeing expert (thefoodpsychologyclinic.co.uk). “Very emotionally resilient individuals possess certain traits like the ability to control the process of remembering traumatic experiences; how to integrate memory and emotions; the capacity to regulate the emotions that relate to a trauma; a strong sense of self-esteem; and the ability to develop a positive meaning from a trauma. The good news is that this trait isn’t static – it is something that can be developed and built up later on in life.”
So why are some of us not as ‘strong’ as we’d like to be? It’s a bit of a cliché but your childhood could be to blame. “A range of factors influence how resilient an individual is, including genetics, epigenetics and early life experiences,” says Uxshley. “For example, there is evidence that individuals who suffer trauma or neglect at an early age are likely to have lower emotional resilience.”
Thankfully, there are proven ways to become more resilient to life’s ups and downs. “These include starting daily meditation, talking therapy to start re-formulating more positive and helpful beliefs, improving nutrition and exercising more,” says Uxshely.
“There have also been studies showing that people with a strong sense of purpose in life are more likely to be emotionally resilient. You should evaluate your life to see whether you truly feel fulfilled, and if not, could you be doing something to contribute to society or the world – whether this is by doing some charity work, finding a new (more fulfilling) job or even just recognising that your important purpose is as a mother?”
While it’s true that we are in control of our own thoughts and feelings, it can be hard not to feel like a victim when life’s thrown some particularly tough knocks in your direction. But if you’re always playing the victim, this isn’t helping you. “Very often people play the victim because they get something from doing so,” says Uxshley. “It may be more sympathy, attention or it may just be that they don’t have to try and make any changes.
“Change in itself can be a difficult and painful process – our brain naturally leans towards things that make us safe and feel familiar. To stop playing the victim you have to start by realising that you are always in control of your emotions and your thoughts. Nobody or nothing can ever make you feel a certain way unless you allow it to. Then you have to start adopting more positive practices. It can be hard to make these changes without support. And changing our beliefs and thought patterns when these have developed from years of experiences can be difficult. Seeking help from a psychotherapist, counsellor or other talking therapist can be lifechanging. Many people tend to think of therapy as something that is only necessary if they are depressed, anxious or suffering with a mental health condition. However, it can also be very beneficial just to boost their ability to withstand stressors and to feel happier, even if they are doing pretty well already.”
Anxiety about the future is common, but, if it’s got so bad that it’s stopping you living your life fully, it’s time to take action. For example, do you frequently cancel social occasions because you’re racked with anxiety? Does fear stop you from flying off on your dream holiday? Take steps today to banish the anxiety. “There are lots of reasons why we feel dread about future events,” says Lorna Cordwell, head of counselling at Chrysalis Courses UK (chrysaliscourses. ac.uk). “Emotions like dread are related to what we think about the future event. These thoughts are usually wholly or partly false – after all, we cannot really see into the future. People feeling dread decide before the event that it will be awful, and then they feel awful about it.”
Instead of believing these thoughts, you need to identify them and challenge them, Lorna continues: “A professional therapist can help to do this, or a self help solution might be for you to sit quietly for some time and try to identify what you think about the situation. A dread-filled person is likely to be thinking ‘everyone will judge me…those people won’t like me… I can’t cope in a place like that’ and so on.
“You can learn to challenge these thoughts as non-truths. Note that we tend to ignore the positives, and overemphasise the negative. You basically have to have a debate with yourself about the truth or value of these thoughts.
“Negative thinking and its related emotions are very common and therapists regularly help people to deal with these. If you find it difficult identifying and challenging negative thoughts, or if you believe they are true, that they relate to experiences you have had that were frightening, embarrassing or frustrating, or you feel a sense of low self-worth, then a therapist can help you overcome these.
“If, however, you are relying on other people to be positive for you, with encouraging words like ‘don’t worry, it will be fine’, for example, then is your dread just there to gain their reassurance? Perhaps it is time to practise reassuring yourself. Here’s how…
1. “Remember that, when we feel anxious, we tend to exaggerate our thinking and believe an outcome will be negative. For example: ‘I cannot face the dinner party, everyone will think I am boring and that I am not looking as good as I used to.’”
2. “Learn to dispute the truth or likelihood of this style of thinking. For example: ‘What’s the evidence that this will really happen?’ ‘What’s the evidence that I might actually have a good time?’ ‘Is it just me telling myself that it will be awful when actually there is no evidence that it will be?’”
3. “Think about how you might feel better if you start regularly reminding yourself that the dinner party could be fun. Plan strategies to take control and make it fun. For example: ‘Yes, I could have a good time. I will make an effort to speak to each person and find out something new about them. It will be interesting.’”
4. “Go to the dinner party – don’t avoid situations that you think might make you uncomfortable, this just makes things worse. Go, have a good time and give yourself feedback that the outcome was so much better than you originally believed it would be.
“This basic structure can help with all kinds of feelings of dread. The formula is: identify your thoughts, challenge them, think about the situation in a more confident way, engage with the situation, don’t avoid it, and remind yourself it was OK. Over time, the more you do this, the easier it becomes.”
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