Bouncing back: ten tips for Emotional Resilience

Gracie asleep

One of the things I find most interesting when looking at the issue of confidence, especially around horses, is the concept of “emotional resilience”.  You know how sometimes something happens to you and you can just acknowledge it and move on – and yet other times something happens and it rocks your whole world?  And causes you to question everything?

That is all about emotional resilience,

So what exactly is “emotional resilience”  and where has it come from? The American psychologist Emmy Werner was one of the first to use the term “resilience” in the Seventies, in a study of children from Kauai, an impoverished region of Hawaii. Werner found that of the children who grew up in difficult circumstances, two thirds exhibited destructive behaviours in adulthood, whereas one third behaved normally. She called this latter group “resilient”, saying they had genetic traits that were different to the others.

Similar studies followed, including an influential one in America in the Eighties, based on the children of schizophrenic parents, which found some thrived despite a lack of parental attention. Academics built up a body of research in the US and Australia, where it is called “psychosocial resilience”, and as the concept garnered attention in Europe, its therapeutic effects began to emerge.

Resilience, explains Prof Richard Williams, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of South Wales, comes from the Latin resilio, which means to jump (or bounce) back. Now, emotional resilience measures our ability to cope with or adapt to stressful situations or crises – be this a hurricane in Kathmandu or an A-level exam in Kingston. Indeed, says Prof Williams, the two situations aren’t so different – rather, they’re on a “spectrum of adversity”.

So emotional resilience is about coping with the things life throws at you…and it is a topic that is even being introduced into the school curriculum…

And this is the key point: emotional resilience can be taught. It’s not just those who have been exposed to natural disasters who develop it; nor is it only children who can surround themselves with its protective armour. Experts say adults are just as adept at learning the skills needed to be emotionally strong, proactive and decisive, no matter how late in life they start.

Just as with Mindfulness work, the effects of emotional resilience training are well-documented. Unlike other therapeutic techniques, many of them rooted in management speak, this has its origins in science. Schools and offices in which the practice is taught have improved so much – increased motivation, innovation and better relationships – that the Department for Health now sponsors a free, downloadable “emotional resilience toolkit” for employers, with tips on how to “survive and thrive” at work.

Let’s take a look at the main things that building emotional resilience focuses on – and see how these might apply to our confidence:

  1. See crises as challenges to overcome; not insurmountable problems

Perspective is key.  In many situations simply “reframing”  the situation can help.  To reframe from “I will never be any good with horses”  to “ I haven’t learned how to cope with this particular situation yet” makes a huge difference to how we feel.  Confindence Mapping is a useful tool for gaining this perspective, as is journaling – both focus on keeping track of what IS working and progressing as well as the challenges

  1. Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family

Bear in mind that supportive doesn’t always mean  agreeing with you – but it DOES mean working with you to achieve your goals and helping you find your way.   It DOES mean removing the people who every time you make a tiny step in the right direction (for example you safely led your horse in from the field) point out how far you have still to go (“it will be years before you are hacking out”).

  1. Accept that change is part of life, not a disaster

I think my last blog focused on this – Life is life and we have to deal with it – and that’s just part of the journey

  1. Take control and be decisive in difficult situations

Now of course with my rather Zen approach to many things I would say “control is an illusion”  LOL – but there is a valid point here.  Identify what you CAN control, and work on that.  If you identify things you CAN’T control, then either change the situation or stop trying to control those things.  One example of this is a friend who has her horse at a livery yard that is not perfect.  The owner often brings her horse in to her stable far too early for my friend’s liking and nothing she has said has convinced the owner to change.  However, everything else at the yard is great, so she has instead researched stable toys, made sure her stable is next to her horse’s fieldmate’s stable, rearranged things so the two horses can still touch and groom over the wall – and has settled for that.

A good example of “change what you cannot accept, accept what you cannot change – but always look for improvements” LOL

  1. Nurture a positive view of yourself – don’t talk yourself down or focus on flaws

This is a big one – our whole life we are assessed, evaluated and have it pointed out to us where we are failing.  What if we focused on strengths instead?  What if instead of focusing on our “flaws”  we just realised that no one is perfect, we have strengths and we can build other strengths….  Every one of us has a right to be here, to be happy to be sad, to be who we are – and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can get on with enjoying things.

It sounds simple, but this one is not easy… it takes a big change in mindset and mindfulness and meditation can be really useful here – as can good friends

  1. Look for opportunities to improve yourself: a new challenge, social situation or interest outside work. Set goals and plan ways to reach them

It seems odd having just said to not focus on flaws that we now say “improve” – but this is about making small achievements and wins.  When I play a tune on a piano and it actually sounds familiar – especially when in the early days it sounded like a cat in pain – I feel good about myself,  So this is about looking for opportunities to feel “justifiably good”  about yourself – building genuine, positive self esteem based on reality.

  1. Keep things in perspective: learn from your mistakes and think long-term

The easiest way to keep things in perspective is two fold:  one, keep track of your progress, so you can see how far you have come – and two: realise that for most of us, our confidence with our horses is what many would call “ a first world problem” – and we are really lucky that we have the time and support to work on this…

Thinking long term helps me cope with the whole life thing – I heard a story once about a woman who went to a counsellor for some advice.  She said “I have always wanted to be a doctor, but. It will take five years so by the time I qualify I will be 45”.  The counsellor simply replied “in five years you will be 45 anyway, whether you become a doctor or not…”

  1. Practise optimism and actively seek the good side of a bad situation

Those of you who know me know this is something I do a lot.  I may not be able to control or change a situation, but I CAN control or change what I focus on and how I choose to FEEL about the situation.  Recently I was told that due to bureaucracy my entry to a long awaited Masters course was being delayed by a year.  I COULD have got upset about that – and for a few minutes I did.  BUT there was nothing I could do to control it – and I realised that it does actually free up my time for this blog, my new job, my own riding and time with my partner – all things that have been a bit lacking lately and so I chose to focus on that positive.  It helps if you have friends to support you in this way of thinking.  It helps a LOT.

  1. Practise emotional awareness: can you identify what you are feeling and why?

I often say “ self-awareness is a pre-requisite for self management” .  If we practice being AWARE of how we feel, then we have more options for CHOOSING how we feel… and we become thinking, reasoning human beings rather than reactive bundles of emotions…

  1. Look after yourself, through healthy eating, exercise, sleep and relaxation.

This is actually bigger than it looks.  Because to look after yourself, you first have to accept and truly believe that you are WORTHY OF CARE.

And this is one of the biggest things around emotional resilience and confidence:  you are worthy of being confident, resilient – simply by being human and on this planet, you are worthy.

Remember that.

This is a long article, but I think it is a topic deserving of the length – I will probably write more on this but for now, how do you think your emotional resilience is today?

And what can you do to strengthen it?

Yours, in Confidence



8 thoughts on “Bouncing back: ten tips for Emotional Resilience

  1. HI Cathy, I am just catching up with your blogs, and just wanted to say how much I enjoy them and how much they resonate with me – especially the entry about ‘Life’! You make some helpful and inspiring thoughts and I look forward to catching up on more entries. Thank you for writing.

    • thanks for the kind words KAte — as you will see I have had a break from the blog for a few months but am back to writing now — when people like and comment it inspires me to keep going!

  2. I have missed you Cathy – you ‘speak’ such sense, your blog always make me say ah yes – that makes sense – Your confidence level information and training were a god send to me at a very difficult time in my horse riding. Please keep going!

    • thanks Sally — it’s good to be back — I am thinking I will probably be posting once or twice a month rather than the weekly postings I was doing before xxx

      And always open to ideas and questions from readers xx

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