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What is Emotional Resilience?

Life is hard. We all face various challenges throughout our lives. We go through times of mild hardship, severe distress, and everything in between. Whether or not we face these hard times is not in doubt—we will face them. What is less predetermined, however, is how we respond to the challenges presented to us. One factor that plays into our responses is something known as emotional resilience.

What is emotional resilience?

Emotional resilience is the ability to handle, overcome, and/or work through emotional hardship. Just as physical resilience allows you to recover from a tough workout, emotional resilience is what helps you get back on your feet when life deals you an emotional blow. 

Emotional resilience can manifest itself in many ways. It may look like:

  • Courage. People with emotional resilience can work through their fears in healthy ways.
  • Service to others. Emotional resilience may show up as a capacity to help others.
  • Religious faith. Some people use faith to buoy their resilience.
  • Asking for help. Asking for help is not weakness; it is simply recognizing that you cannot continue alone. This is a healthy response to many emotional challenges, especially in regards to mental health.
  • Wisdom. Emotionally resilient people learn from their mistakes and apply what they’ve learned to future situations.
  • Positivity/optimism. If you are emotionally resilient, you are more likely to be able to be optimistic, even as you face trials.
  • Perseverance. Resilience requires effort. When you have emotional resilience, you don’t give up.
  • Hope. Emotional resilience is the willingness to hope for better outcomes in the future.
  • Patience. Emotionally resilient people are willing to suffer through negative emotions with patience, hope, and perspective.
  • Humility. Part of emotional resilience is being able to recognize when you are wrong or when you are struggling with something.
  • Accountability. Emotional resilience empowers people to take accountability for their actions, rather than hiding in fear of the repercussions of their mistakes. 

Please note: you don’t have to have every single one of these qualities at any given moment in order to be emotionally resilient. It may show up in different ways at different times. How your emotional resilience turns up will depend on the specific challenges you face and your unique personality. 

Emotional resilience and creativity

Emotional resilience is vital for anyone who is trying to live a happier life—including creatives. In fact, I might argue that emotional resilience is one of the most important things you can do to uncover, increase, or expand your creativity. Here’s why.

Emotional resilience supports vulnerability.

When you feel unsafe, it’s hard to be vulnerable. Why would you put yourself out there when any criticism that comes your way is going to break you?

Emotionally resilient people have learned to handle criticism so that it doesn’t break them. They are willing to hear the bad along with the good (and they’ve probably learned how to use that negative feedback to their advantage, too). This means that emotionally resilient people feel safer putting themselves out there. They know they can handle whatever anyone else says about them or their creative work. 

Creativity requires this kind of vulnerability, which is why creatives can benefit greatly from becoming more emotionally resilient.

Emotional resilience invites positivity.

People who are emotionally resilient are more likely to see the world through a lens of hope and love. When you are able to cope with the “bad” things in life in a healthy way, they have a tendency to seem less bad. 

While the occasional moment of stress or worry can actually fuel creativity, getting stuck in negative thought patterns is going to hurt your creativity in the long run. Being able to look on the bright side and see the beauty in the world isn’t only going to make you happier, but it’s also going to make your creative work more uplifting and inspiring to others.

Emotional resilience promotes learning.

We all make mistakes. But how do you respond when you make a mistake? Do you beat yourself up and dwell on it for months (or even years), not allowing yourself to move on? Or do you step back, analyze the situation, glean the lesson from the mess, and press forward?

Emotionally resilient people definitely do the latter. They are able to separate guilt (“I did something bad”) from shame (“I am bad”) so that they can bounce back when they mess up. 

This is a crucial skill for creativity, because you will mess up. Take it from someone who has been creating for a long time: messing up is part of the game. You’ll have bad ideas, poor execution, confused presentation, and more. It is all too easy to let errors like these take you off the creative train for good. When you develop emotional resilience, however, you’ll be able to shake off the missteps and use them as learning experiences rather than as “proof” that you shouldn’t create anymore. 

Emotional resilience begets great work.

Creating takes an emotional toll (and sometimes a physical and mental one, too). It’s exhausting. When you create, you are pouring your emotions into your work. You are pulling your heart out of your chest and putting it into your creation. 

What happens if you give up halfway through? If you decide that you’re tired, or that your emotions are spent?  You might miss the mark as you keep working. You might finish your project halfheartedly. Or you might even just walk away entirely.

Emotional resilience can help you push through those tough and tiresome moments. It can help you stay positive and maintain perspective, even when you start to feel discouraged about your project or about your abilities as a creative person.  

The more emotionally resilient you are, the more you’ll be able to put your emotions into your work in an effective, moving way. What more could a creative want?

Building emotional resilience

Emotional resilience is clearly an important quality for creatives to develop. So how exactly do you go about doing that?

We will go into depth on this topic in the coming weeks’ posts, but for now, here are some quick ideas.

Recognize your emotions.

How can you be emotionally resilient when you don’t know what emotions you’re experiencing? Keep an emotion journal (a paper journal is fine, or you can use an app like Daylio). Become familiar with your emotions and how you experience them.

Connect with others.

Emotional resilience exists inside of you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need outside support. In fact, your loved ones can help buoy you up as you deliberately try to develop more emotional resilience. Learn to rely on them; they probably believe in you more than you believe in yourself (for now).

Watch your thoughts.

Your thoughts directly impact your emotions. If your thoughts are constantly negative or self-deprecating, they are not going to help you become emotionally resilient. Catch yourself when you think thoughts that don’t serve you, and turn them into a thought that can actually help you get to where you want to go.

Do something scary.

Why do we avoid doing something we are afraid of? Because we think that the outcome is going to be disastrous for us. The truth, however, is that most of the things we fear don’t turn out nearly as bad as we think they will. So face a fear! Do something you’ve always been afraid to do. Prove to yourself that you can handle it if it goes awry. You are capable of facing your fears and of surviving if it doesn’t go perfectly.

Take care of yourself.

You are a whole person. How your body functions and feels affects how your mind functions and feels (and vice versa). Make sure you are taking care of your body, mind, and spirit. Do things that fill your cup and make you feel your best. 

As a creative, working on my emotional resilience has been one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences I’ve ever had. It can be that for you, too. Develop your own emotional resilience. Discover the power you have to work through absolutely any emotional challenge, setback, or hardship. You are capable and worthy of happiness, and emotional resilience can help you create and keep that happiness in your life.