Is Emotional Resilience The Most Important Tool You Can Learn As An Adult?

And what actually is it?Illustration by Assa Ariyoshi

Is Emotional Resilience The Most Important Tool You Can Learn As An Adult?

by Chemmie Squier |
Published on

My understanding of resilience is getting up when you fall, bouncing back, dusting yourself off and try again (credit to Aaliyah). You get the idea. This is no surprise considering that the literal translation is just that: ‘resilio’ is Latin for jumping or bouncing back. But Geetu Bharwaney, author of Emotional Resilience and Managing Director of Ei World, defines it as, ‘choosing the thoughts feeling and actions to enable you to function at your best.’

Emotional resilience is a concept that’s been trickling into the mainstream for a little while. In 2014 head teachers from independent schools around the country met to discuss how they could equip students with emotional resilience and Geetu’s own company – which works with individuals and companies to coach them in emotional resilience and emotional intelligence – is testament. You could, if you really wanted, think of this as the new ‘mindfulness’ and, actually, it’s not miles from it.

‘For the generations today this [emotional resilience] is really vital because things are getting more and more complex,’ Geetu tells me. ‘The US military use the term VUCA which is a term I like to use to describe what we’re dealing with because no one knows what’s going to happen so we need to have this combination of knowing who we are but also the flexibility to adapt,’ Geetu tells me.

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. In the military it’s used to describe the need to be responsive no matter what. Of course, there are no comparisons between what those in the armed forces deal with on a daily basis to the average person, but VUCA. The inference is simply that society, generally, is just a bit all over the place. With that in mind, it’s adaptability that sits at the core of emotional resilience.

‘When people talk about resilience, they talk about bouncing back after a terrible situation or a setback but because we’re dealing with this VUCA, the bouncing back is no longer from a setback.’ In other words, the state of affairs our generation is dealing with right now, is a perpetual state of stress and anxiety. Brilliant. Stats back this up: according to Mind one in four people will experience a mental health problem in their life.

Geetu’s book offers a practical way to build up this skill and in it she talks about the six essentials which we all have instilled from a young age. These are how much self-worth you have, self-control, mood (how happy/unhappy/serious/not serious you are naturally), empathy, how caring you are and understanding. For everyone, these will sit on a sliding scale and you’ll probably have a good idea of where you fall with all of them. Where emotional resilience comes in, is noting where you fall with each of them, and how you can adapt them for the situation you’re in.

‘For example, if I was going to meet a new group of people and I know that I’m naturally quite shy and uncomfortable making chit chat I might need to figure out how I can use empathy, understanding and balancing it with myself worth so I’m able to talk about myself,’ Geetu explains. ‘Then it’s learning all of the skills that help you to make the adjustment.’ Geetu addresses these in the book: she talks about shifting emotions, problem solving emotions, expressing emotions, having group empathy, and also dialogue: having difficult conversations. After that you can apply it to your whole life.

Emotions get a pretty bad rep. emotional decisions are often seen as the wrong ones, perhaps hysterical or crazy. We’re told that to be successful you must be aggressive! Assertive! Speak your mind! (not too much, obviously – we’re female after all) but emotions are at the core of our being as humans, they’re an important mechanism that should be harnessed, rather than ignored.

‘Emotions are data; they tell us what’s going on. People in the past have said “emotions are a bit soft, you don’t want to be soft”, but actually that’s completely missing the point,’ Geetu tells me. ‘Every single decision we make involves emotion, the only decision that may not is when we’re trying to solve a complex maths problem.’

This is reassuring. Needn’t be scared of our emotions, instead, they’re the very things we need in order to help us basically nail life. ‘The problem is that when our brain is flooded with stressful emotions, cortisol – which is linked to all of the major illnesses – pushes out our ability to think straight.’ In essence, then emotional resilience is taking these emotions, and harnessing them for the good. By understanding them, rather than blocking them out or running away, we can use them as tools for better decisions.

Obviously, I wanted clear steps on how to nail emotional resilience so I could implement it straight away and get going with my new emotionally resilient life. And, obviously, it’s not quite as easy as that. ‘My short answer is this has to be a full commitment on the part of the person because it isn’t a quick fix but what I can say is that balance is really important,’ says Geetu. ‘So the first thing is to look at the six areas of life and ask myself where am I totally unbalanced?’

Geetu sees these areas as physical health, social health, career health, intellectual or learning, spiritual health and financial. Realising where you’re unbalanced, where you’re unfulfilled and which you can tweak to (hopefully) bring you an all-round feeling of wellbeing.

Setting yourself specific targets on a weekly basis help focus on these particular things, and make them manageable. ‘For example if you’re unbalanced in social health, it could be simply to have one meaningful connection a day with someone that you care about. If its your physical health, it could be that you want to make sure you’re doing 10,000 steps every day’ Getu explains. And when it’s put like that, it doesn’t seem so insurmountable because these are meant to be positive things. Emotional resilience isn’t another thing to feel bad about because you don’t think you are IT; it’s something to be aware of rather than punish yourself with.

Thinking about yourself is key as well because it’s easy to forget about number one when you’re being pulled in so many directions. ‘A lot of people focus on work and then if they’ve got free time they’ll focus on their friends, their family or their partner and the last thing will be self-care,’ Geetu explains. ‘But actually I think we need to invert that because if we take care of ourselves, we bring our best selves to other people and we’re much more balanced with how we react.’

So let’s break this down. Living a balanced life in all areas and being aware of your emotions, allows you to affectively deal with any situation in your life, in the best way. And that, my friends, is emotional resilience.

*'Emotional Resilience' is available to buy on Amazon or to download as an audio book on Audible. *

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Follow Chemmie on Twitter @chemsquier

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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