Like lifting weights, you can build up your emotional resilience.

Taking care of your mental health means building emotional resilience.

Go to the profile of Lucy Johnson MA
Mar 24, 2017
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We all know we should stay fit and healthy. And we all know what this means: go swimming, run round the block, or even just walk more. But very few of us think about looking after our mental health. Most of us don't even know that looking after our mental health is a thing.

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of acknowledging and feelings your emotions to maintain good mental health. In this post, I will talk about building emotional resilience.

When you start going to the gym, do you immediately pick up the 20kg weight, squat down, thrust your chest forward, and lift it above your head?

Not unless you want to topple over backwards. Emotions and mental health are the same. You're not going to do the heavy lifting immediately.

For one thing, you may well be worried that your feelings will overwhelm you. Many clients say: "if I start crying I may not be able to stop". As a therapist, I know how terrifyingly overwhelming emotions can seem. They can be powerful, body-shaking, gut-wrenching experiences. I also know what happens if we don't build up the resilience to deal with them.

If we don't acknowledge and feel our emotions, we are more prone to anxiety and depression, we may act in ways we don't understand, and we do not have an internal compass to guide us in the right direction in life.

Like exercise, this does not have to be daunting. Start small. Pick up a 2kg weight. Practice lifting it up, and get a feeling for it. The same with emotions: start with a small one, acknowledge it and praise yourself for having been conscious of it. The chances are if you have been blocking out your emotions, they will only emerge as small, half-felt sensations.

Stick with it, give yourself a chance to explore the feeling or sensation. Emotions can start as butterflies in the tummy, or a feeling of tightness in the chest. Ask yourself: what is the emotion associated with this feeling? Be curious, and open. You are slowly getting to know how you feel.

Gradually over time, move onto the 5kg and then the 10kg weight. Like weights, as you more frequently check in with your feelings, see if you can hold onto them for a longer period.

Give yourself some quiet time to explore the emotion, and enter into it more freely. Know that emotions are energy, they move through your body, and will always expend themselves. The very word "emotion" comes from the Latin "emovere" which means move or motion. As you sit with your pain, sadness or anger, know that really experiencing these emotions however big and powerful they feel allows them to move through you, and pass out of you.

Rather like exercise, remember that you are in control. You can stop at any time, but the benefits are going to be gained through persistence. You are part of the emotions but also separate from them. Therapists call this the neutral observer, and this part of you can help to remind you that the feelings you are undergoing are a passing sensation.

I find with my clients, that as they practice sitting more openly with their emotions, they get more adept at it, and less frightened: like going to the gym, they build up their emotional muscle, and their emotional resilience.

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