6 Ways to Build Emotional Resilience

UPDATED: May 6, 2024
PUBLISHED: August 8, 2021
6 Ways to Build Emotional Resilience

Do you know someone who easily bounces back from stress? Someone who can deal with sticky situations and carries on as though nothing happened? That is emotional resilience.

Yet even the most emotionally resilient people break down. We’ve all had “one of those days” where everything went wrong. Then, even the tiniest issue sets us either into panic or collapses us emotionally. Without giving ourselves space to rebuild our emotional resilience, we may become irritable and fatigued. Worse, it can affect our long-term health and success.

Emotional resilience needs practiced. Proven methods help us build our resilience. Let’s take a look at six of them.

Take a moment for self-talk.

First, remove yourself from the stressful situation, when you can, and breathe. Taking time to breathe is common advice for a reason: it works. Deep, measured breathing calms both the body and the mind. And when that happens, your thoughts will turn inward. This is where self-talk comes in.

Self-talk refers to each of our unique inner dialogue. How we talk to ourselves has a lot to do with how we perceive ourselves. As with any relationship, the relationship we have within can be either comforting or overly critical. Self-talk exercises train us to treat ourselves not only more kindly, but more realistically. Avoid negative thinking. Consider not only the positives in your life, but the positives about you.

That is, talk to yourself like someone you love.

Remove unnecessary stressors.

Upon reaching calm, we sometimes add to our stress. Many of us reach for our mobile devices. Perhaps we hope to hear from a friend. Maybe we hope for that uplifting meme. Often, we’re checking for more work—more stress—before we have fully recovered. We just got to the point of breathing, and prematurely we’re looking for more engagement… more conflict. Break that habit.

The first important step is to remove unnecessary notifications. If you rely on them for emergencies, reduce them to calls or texts. And consider removing social media from your device entirely. Try to cut notifications for everything that isn’t required. Even something like a gaming app we once used as a break can start to feel like additional responsibility. They are designed that way.

Upon removing those notifications, consider other things that have moved from relaxation to stress. For instance, hobbies sometimes grow to consume our lives in ways we had not intended. Cut out anything that brings more stress than calm over long periods.

Focus on the positive and embrace change.

Are you a natural worrier? If so, positive changes such as a career advancement can cause inner concerns and self-doubts. You may not even know it. Worries sometimes chew at the back of your mind, wearing down your resilience in the subconscious.

Don’t wait for this to happen. Instead, confront potential worries head on. Take the time to think through all the positives that lie ahead of any change. Is there an opportunity for learning or growth? Perhaps it’s a pay raise, or simply the chance to meet new people in a new environment. Whatever the situation, list the positives mentally. Write them down. That way, you can embrace the change wholeheartedly and with resilience rather than letting anxiety get a head start.

Find opportunities for activity.

Let’s face it: those who like exercise have probably already joined a gym. Or they’re ones who walk 3 miles for lunch. Active people extoll the benefits of exercise such as a clearer mind and better sleep. And they’re not wrong, Exercise builds calm and resilience. And yet, “working out” just isn’t for everyone.

Even the most exercise-resistant can stay active. Do you feel embarrassed that you can’t keep up at the office lunch walk? Close your office door and create your own exercise routine. It can be as simple as a few squats or sit-ups—that is, whatever is in your health and comfort zone. Consider a stand-up desk you can easily lower to a sitting position. Garden at home, or take a beginner’s yoga course. For me, walking nature trails or parks on my own provides the opportunity to re-tune. Find something that works for you. Reconnect the mind and body, and you will feel your stress replaced by energy.

Preparing your own meals,

Stress reduces resilience. And we know from countless studies that stress can lead to junk-eating. Yet, the relationship between diet and stress is more complicated than that. In fact, it’s a vicious cycle where poor diet impacts mood and decreases resilience.

Consider preparing your work lunch at home. Cutting down on glucose-creating carbs doesn’t mean cutting them out entirely. But if you supplement your meal with some fruit or salad, you will almost certainly eat healthier than what you pick from a menu. And reduce the habit of grabbing take-out or fast food on the way home. Yes, you may be rushed. But those mood-altering “sugar highs” from fast food slow us down in the long run. See for yourself how relatively minor changes in nutrition boost resilience and productivity.

Receive—and provide—emotional support.

Not everyone has someone to lean on. If you do, make use of that opportunity. That person may be a family member, an old friend, or even a colleague. Start a conversation with them. That doesn’t mean unloading on them all at once. But talk. If someone appears frustrated or sad, ask how they are doing. Providing support for others has multiple benefits. For one, you can often help them just by lending an ear. At the same time, you open the opportunity to have their ear for your own stresses. That cathartic support builds resilience for both of you.

In fact, group therapy is purposefully designed this way. Isolation is a growing problem in the modern world as we often move far from friends and family. Guided group therapy either online or in person provides an opportunity to let your troubles go with others.

You are never alone. No one is designed to carry all the weight all the time. Whether being kind to yourself or seeking the support of others, we all need that break from stress to recharge.

Emotional resilience is like a muscle. Yes, it needs the exercise of new challenges. But it’s during rest that the muscle truly repairs and grows.

Photo by @hellomikee/Twenty20

Bryan Lindenberger

Bryan enjoys the digital space where arts and technology meet. As a writer, he has worked in education, health and wellbeing, and manufacturing. He also assists smaller businesses in web development including accessibility and content development. In his free time, he hikes trails in central Florida.