Last updated on February 12, 2024
Bouncing back after getting smacked around. Finding your feet after slipping up. That’s resilience in the face of life’s hits and misses.
As a holistic coach for the past five years, I’ve seen first-hand how cultivating resilience can empower people to reach their full potential. The great news is that anyone can build resilience step-by-step.
Drawing on the latest research and my own work with clients, I’ll offer practical insights into developing greater resilience—whether for yourself or those you mentor. If you’re ready to bounce forward stronger, let’s dig in!
Bend, Don’t Break: What Is Emotional Resilience?
Remember the last time life threw you a curveball? Maybe you got laid off without warning, had a nasty spat with your partner, or faced an unexpected health issue. We all stumble sometimes on this winding road of life. Yet people with resilience manage to regain their footing time and again when adversity strikes.
Rather than getting knocked down and staying down by challenges, the emotionally resilient individual has a temperament and outlook that empowers bouncing back. They are adept at dusting themselves off, assessing options mindfully, and figuring out a way forward.
Even amid painful setbacks, they adapt and rise up again and again by leveraging their inner strengths. Emotional resilience in action is the inherent capacity to absorb difficulty and continue moving forward.
The Science Behind The Term
Research shows emotional resilience stems from a mix of genetics, life experiences, brain structure, and thought patterns. While some of us may be born with greater innate resilience thanks to our DNA, the good news is this capacity can be consciously built up over time.
Brain scans of highly resilient individuals reveal denser activity and connectivity between regions tied to executive function, impulse control, and reasoning compared to less resilient peers.
Research also spotlights how the resilient attitude uniquely blends positivity, persistence, and purpose during taxing times.
Purposefully building these psychological muscles through science-backed training and biological and neurological factors develops vital mental toughness. These personal markers manifest as the remarkable ability to absorb difficulty, adapt to pressure, and bounce forward gracefully.
Befriending Yourself: The Case for Self-Compassion
They say life’s hardest critic often stares back at us in the mirror. Many accomplished, driven individuals know this all too well. The same competitive edge that fueled their rise can turn into uncompromising self-criticism during setbacks.
While attention to detail matters, resilience research reveals self-compassion is key—the ability to treat oneself with understanding, patience, and care as we would a good friend during tough times. Easier said than done, but actively practicing self-compassion reaps scientifically backed benefits for bouncing back stronger.
Cultivating a Growth Mindset for Resilience
Did you ever have times in life when it felt like that scene from a superhero movie? There you are, battered and bruised emotionally, struggling to pull yourself up off the mat. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s easy in those rock bottom moments to lose hope and throw in the towel rather than lifting yourself back up.
But here’s the simple mindset shift that changed everything for me: adopting a tenacious “I can do this” attitude rather than a defeated “I’m done” mindset.
When we view temporary failures or challenges as informative pitstops rather than definitive endpoints on our journeys, emotional resilience follows.
I used to let regret about past business mistakes or fear of future unknowns paralyze me into inaction. But over time, I realized that I could bounce back faster with each stumble by looking at down moments as opportunities to expand my coping abilities. It allowed me to get comfortable being uncomfortable!
There’s still space for realism balanced with optimism, of course. But regularly flexing that tenacity muscle prepares us far better to handle life’s emotional gut punches down the road.
After all, our emotions need healthy resistance and pressure to expand their strength, right? No one ever built sturdy emotional resilience by hiding from pain. What doesn’t break us can actually make us stronger indeed—if we face it with an open, growth-focused mindset.
Building Support Systems
What is the greatest predictor of your own optimism? The company you keep. Studies demonstrate that nurturing positive, understanding relationships results in higher resilience capacity as we adopt the hopefulness of those around us. Actively seek out supportive voices who lift you up.
Prune Toxic Connections
Disengage from individuals who sap your strength through toxicity, jealousy, or negativity. While surface-level social ties have a role, regularly interacting with cynics and critics directly impairs resilience habits over time. Be choosy about giving your time.
Combat Isolation With Small Acts Of Kindness
Even small good deeds for others spark a helper’s high that builds resilience. Whether grabbing coffee for a colleague, sending a thank you note to a mentor, or simply holding the door for someone, focus less on your own struggles by uplifting those around you.
Developing Healthy Coping Strategies
Here’s the truth—some days simply suck. You wake up under a black cloud, struggling to find the silver lining as challenges storm in from every direction. It’s easy to feel powerless in life’s squalls, right?
But here’s the deal— while we can’t control external storms, we have a say in how we respond. The key is building healthy coping strategies so that when floods of anxiety, sadness, or stress threaten to overwhelm, we access internal life preservers. My reliable go-to techniques include:
Journal to Declutter Your Mind
When emotions feel tangled, I pour them out onto paper. Getting thoughts out of your head literally lightens your mental load. I carve 5 minutes daily to let stress stream from pen to page.
Refrain from overthinking the process is key—set a timer and free flow. Self-judgment stays on the bench.
Studies show journaling reduces anxiety and health issues in high-stress seasons of life. And being able to flick back through past entries reassures me that better days found me before when the sky seemed darkest.
Try Somatic Practices
When daily life triggers stress responses, somatic practices can short-circuit the body’s fight, flight, or freeze reactions by gently reconnecting to body sensations.
Therapeutic techniques like body scans, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation cue awareness of the present physical moment versus spinning mental worries.
Simple routines tuning into the body’s wisdom for just 5-10 minutes daily can provide lasting anxiety and trauma relief over time.
The key is consistency dedicating focus to training somatic mindfulness. By regularly dropping out of our heads and into embodied presence, we strengthen emotional regulation capacities and build resilience through times of adversity.
Limit Intense Digital Inputs
While productivity hacks often promote an ‘always on’ mentality, maintaining this approach long-term can be detrimental to resilience. Constant digital noise fatigues emotional bandwidth over time, spiking stress hormone levels.
Set boundaries around social media and high-intensity outlets. Unplugging relieves the exhausting pressure of keeping up with the frenetic digital world.
Seek Positive Distractions
Actively shift focus away from cyclical worries onto something that energizes you—play uplifting music, call a dear friend, get lost in a novel, move your body. Anything unrelated to the current stressor that stimulates your senses or sparks creativity gives your mind a break from draining demons.
Transforming Challenges with Gratitude and Mindfulness
I used to internally roll my eyes when well-meaning friends encouraged me to “count my blessings” during emotionally exhausting times. Sure, gratitude works for some people, I thought. But how could listing a few “feel-good” things help me manage life’s real weight?
Over time, though, I began carving out a habit of nightly journaling to note at least one positive thing that happened, no matter how small.
Amazingly, I noticed distinct improvements over weeks and months, specifically in my ability to constructively step back from negative events.
By focusing proactively on bright spots—an inspiring song, the sound of the ocean, and the bonds with people I cherish—I trained my brain to dial down the emotional drama around daily frustrations.
The annoyances didn’t disappear, but their grip loosened, empowering more calm responses. Multiple studies validate gratitude’s unique benefits in decreasing anxiety and boosting coping capacities.
Clearing Clutter, Clearing the Mind
In the same way, gratitude journals help reframe perspectives; mindfulness practices can anchor thinking when external stresses mount.
Regularly taking just 5-10 minutes to tune into the senses lifts reactive focus off swirling anxieties, enabling clearer responses.
This practice is supported by neuroscience and psychological research, which have documented the cognitive resilience benefits of mindfulness, including enhanced focus, reduced stress responses, and improved emotional regulation.”
In my own life, I’ve found that the science rings true—surrounding myself intentionally with breathing room and simplicity helps complement a mindfulness practice. Just as clearing physical space opens mental space for focus, regular mindfulness clears mental space for emotional resilience.
I notice this directly in my minimalist home office. With fewer piles of papers and knickknacks distracting me, I feel less frenzied and more centered.
The decluttered environment allows me to tune into the senses faster, write with clarity, and respond to stresses resiliently.
Moving Forward with Resilience
Life brings unpredictable adversity. But we build emotional resilience over time by consciously counterbalancing each storm with daily doses of gratitude, mindfulness, self-care, and support systems.
With practice tuning into inner wells of strength, we activate durable capacities to absorb difficulty, adapt to change, and bounce forward with flexibility.
Resilience takes root when we redirect attention from what lies outside our control to expanding inner resources that center us amid chaos. We shift focus from avoiding pain to engaging with life’s complexities courageously through the lens of growth.
With emotional muscles trained proactively, we move buoyed by an inner light—prepared to ride out the darkest nights, knowing the dawn always awaits to guide us home.
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Mona Kirstein, Ph.D., is a serial entrepreneur, holistic coach, and consultant who empowers women to transform obstacles into breakthrough opportunities. Blending science-backed strategies with awareness cultivation, she fosters purposeful growth mindsets and emotional resilience skills in women ready to build fulfilling, conscious lives and careers.