Want to learn how to improve your emotional resilience? Keep reading...
We all have those days when we get upset or frustrated by almost anything, even when we’re trying our best to manage our emotions. While we all have an innate level of resilience that helps us navigate life’s struggles, certain things (that we often overlook) can undermine our ability to bounce back.
Marsha Linehan (the Matriarch of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) has identified a checklist of ‘vulnerabilities’ that make it difficult for us to manage our emotions. If you make sure that these things are taken care of, you’ll be better able maintain your emotional resilience, as they are the foundations of general wellbeing.
No one likes to feel like their emotions are running the show. So if you’re having one of those days, perhaps you’re feeling a little fragile or agitated, ask yourself the following:
1. Am I tired? Being tired makes it really hard for us to be chirpy and fresh. Bumps on the road can easily become boulders. And even the simplest things can feel like a real drag. Make sure you’re getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night. Research shows that sleep deprivation increases the intensity of negative moods and dampens positive emotions like empathy and friendliness. If you’re having trouble with your sleep, check out “The Night Shift” for some helpful hints on improving your sleep.
2. Have I eaten recently? Whatever you do, eat regularly! Our bodies need food about every three hours. After three hours, your body starts to produce adrenalin, as a way of motivating you to seek out food. But we aren’t very good at recognising that this is a sign for us to eat, so instead we wind up feeling anxious or getting downright HANGRY.
Eat foods that nourish your body and your mind. Foods that contain tryptophan (aka good mood foods) produce serotonin which leaves you feeling happy. These include foods like oysters, octopus, banana, turkey and sesame seeds. Carbohydrates also produce serotonin, so maybe rethink that carb-free diet a little.
Also, when it comes to food, eat enough so that you feel satisfied (but not so much that you feel sick) and avoid eating foods that you know don’t agree with your body.
3. Am I Stressed? A feeling many of us know all too well. If you’re feeling under the pump, make sure that you take the time to prioritise the things that actually need to get done. Try to be effective with your time and delegate where possible.
4. Have I gotten a dose of vitamin D? The verdict is still out about whether vitamin D actually affects your mood, but I know that sitting in a fluorescent-lit room all day doesn’t make me want to jump for joy. Getting out and about is important for us to feel happy. So take your lunch break to get out in the sunshine, sit in a park, or try to walk to or from work.
5. Have I exercised? Twenty minutes of exercise, where your heart rate is elevated 70% above your resting, is the same as taking an anti-depressant. Exercise is so central to our wellbeing that in the US, it’s been suggested that Psychologists may be in breach of their duty of care if exercise is not part of a treatment plan for mood disorders.
Exercise is particularly helpful for addressing agitation, frustration, anxiety and rumination. This doesn’t have to be pounding the treadmill. Exercise in any way that gives you enjoyment – try dancing, rock climbing, cleaning, gardening… and sex.
6. Am I under the influence? Drugs and alcohol are responsible for hangovers, immune suppression and the ‘terrible Tuesdays’. If you’re feeling flat, moody or depleted, cutting out alcohol and drug use will significantly improve your ability to regulate your emotions.
7. Am I in pain? Pain makes it really hard for us to manage our mood and emotions, and it certainly impacts our ability to be resilient. If you are in pain or you have an ongoing medical issue that you have not sought treatment for, get it checked out.
8. Ladies, am I getting or have I got my period? Menstruation, while also being responsible for causing pain, really affects our mood and emotional resilience. Research has shown that we are definitely much less resilient at this time of the month.
So, what can I do when these vulnerabilities are present and I’m finding it hard to be resilient?
First of all, it’s about being aware of these vulnerabilities and trying your best to ensure that you aren’t ignoring them. Prioritise your self-care. You wouldn’t want to live in a house with poorly cared for foundations, as it could fall over at any point. So treat your body like your home, and take care of it.
If you’re aware that these vulnerabilities are present and perhaps you can’t do anything about them, be kind to yourself and show yourself compassion. Instead of beating yourself up for getting upset about something that wouldn’t usually set off the water works, treat yourself kindly and reassure yourself that you’ll get through it. Treat yourself like the kind friend you are to others.
Avoid situations where these vulnerabilities are going to be exacerbated, and if you aren’t feeling very resilient, try to avoid doing things like having a major discussion about where your relationship is headed. The saying, "pick your battles" also applies here.
Reach out to other people for support. A lot of our core emotions are designed to get others to help us out when we need them; grief is a great example of this. So lean on others if you can, spend time with your loved ones, or let someone at work that you feel close to in on how you’re feeling. There's a lot of research to show that social support is essential for improving our mood, lowering stress, and improving our ability to regulate our emotions.
May you keep happiness insight xx