You might relate: Life’s got you feeling down. You’re in chronic pain, your partner was laid off, and you lost a beloved pet due to cancer. How do you deal?
Enter, emotional resilience. You might’ve also heard it called “inner strength.”
Emotional resilience is different from “toughing it out.” Instead, it’s a quality that allows you to maintain an even keel in your darkest times — even while acknowledging difficult circumstances.
If you find yourself being tossed this way and that by hardships, being told to “be resilient” can feel invalidating and frustrating. But anyone can develop emotional resilience, and doing so may help you get through life’s toughest moments with a sense of grace and empowerment.
Traits of emotionally resilient people
Building emotional resilience takes time. But with practice, you may find your newfound inner strength allows you to persevere and even thrive through the curveballs life can throw.
1. Seek connection
Lack of social support and isolation are risk factors for low emotional resilience.
Meanwhile, keeping a network of people you can trust to catch you in hard times — and for whom you’d return the favor — can give you the strength to keep on when it’s too hard to get through life alone.
Consider strengthening bonds with trusted friends and family or building new connections with like-minded people in a support group.
2. Show yourself compassion
You can develop self-compassion by:
- treating your body with care by making sure it gets sleep, nourishment, and hydration
- confronting harsh self-talk and practicing kind self-talk in its place
- acknowledging and validating your own emotions
3. Develop your locus of control
Locus of control refers to your beliefs about the power you have to effect change in your own life. Low emotional resilience could come with a reduced locus of control — in other words, you might believe there’s nothing you can do about negative circumstances.
Building up your locus of control means you practice viewing life as if you are in the driver’s seat, and fostering the belief that you have the power to change things in your life that make you unhappy. You could do this by:
- making changes to only what you can control
- who you connect with and how you spend time with them
- how you might spend or save money differently
4. Approaching difficult situations (vs. avoiding them)
A 2016 systematic review discusses how not avoiding difficult situations, which authors consider the same as having a high tendency to approach difficult situations head on, are predictors of resilience in healthcare professionals.
There’s a concept in clinical academics coined “ride the wave.” It’s symbolic of leaning into challenges instead of avoiding or fighting them. Here are resources to get you started:
- Why Am I So Indecisive? 10 Methods That Can Help You Make Decisions
- Feeling Stuck? How to Remove Those Roadblocks
- Feeling Stuck? How to Express Your Feelings
5. Practice mindfulness
In a 2016 study, mindfulness helped people roll with both positive and negative emotions.
Mindfulness coupled with cognitive behavior therapy techniques (called mindfulness-based CBT) may help by keeping your focus on the here and now while reducing anxiety and depression, according to 2017 research.
6. Look to the spiritual
A 2015 study found that students who identified as more spiritual had more resilience when faced with challenges.
Besides giving you something beyond yourself to place a sense of safety and security in, spirituality may broaden your perspective on the difficulties at hand, making them more manageable.
7. Challenging thoughts
Challenging irrational, superlative (always, never), or neurotic thoughts with objectivity and open-ended questions is a time-tested cornerstone of evidence-based strategies for emotional resilience.
These resources can help:
- How to Challenge Irrational Thoughts: 5 Ways
- Can’t Help Thinking About the Past? 3 Tips to Stop Ruminating
- 15 Cognitive Distortions To Blame for Negative Thinking
8. Focus on the good
For one thing, maintaining a sense of humor can help you find a thread of positivity in many situations. In addition, keeping a gratitude practice may help you remember what you value even in times of loss.
In everyday life, low emotional resilience can look like:
- difficulty keeping up with work tasks
- feeling constantly overwhelmed
- trouble focusing
- isolating yourself
- mental health concerns like depression and anxiety
Emotional resilience can enable you to keep up with work, be there for loved ones, and focus on what needs to get done.
A variety of factors beyond your control can influence how much emotional resilience you have.
- have difficulty regulating emotions
- experience frequent, strong emotional reactions
- perceive threats in safe environments
- feel fear in more situations
- People with higher levels of neuroticism, or a tendency to experience worry and negative emotions, had less resilience.
- Higher levels of openness and agreeableness were connected to more resilience.
Gender may be associated with differences in emotional resilience, but societal and cultural factors like harassment and discrimination may have a bigger impact on emotional resilience than gender itself.
For instance, transgender and gender nonconforming people are more likely to be negatively impacted by discrimination in ways that could impact their resilience, according to a 2017 study.
A 2018 study involving Chinese college students also found that women experienced higher levels of distress than men, and they were more likely to lean on social support than resilience to get through it.
In the study, they define the two this way:
|a personality trait of (more or less) facing challenges||an inner circle that helps you cope with challenges|
|can be enhanced||can be sought|
Some theorize that age can play a role in your resilience levels.
A 2020 study that looked at stress responses in different age groups through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic found that younger people were more prone to being negatively impacted by stressors than older adults.
Emotional resilience is a form of inner strength that allows you to keep going through tough times.
Sometimes factors beyond your control can make it harder to bounce back. But if you decide you want to build emotional resilience, it’s never too late to start.