My eyes darted to the phone sitting in my hand. It pulsed with aliveness, calling my attention. I knew that on the other side of the phone lay a friendly, calming voice that always knew how to ease me. On this side, me and my life-long anxiety trapped together in a room.
Only today we weren’t alone. Today, my anxiety was accompanied by a new but distinct drive to find my own inner strength. ‘Just breathe’ that inner voice whispered, ‘you can handle this.’
Months earlier I had begun graduate school in Counseling Psychology. In those classrooms I heard the term ‘emotional resiliency’ for the first time.
Emotional resilience is ‘the ability to spring back after suffering through difficult circumstances in life.’ It’s also the ability to be resourceful and responsive in the midst of emotional stress. Resilience is a key aspect of ‘emotional intelligence’ which research shows leads to better career advancement, healthier relationships, more efficacy in sales and leadership roles, and higher levels of joy and meaning. Also, since it builds implicit trust that you can handle whatever comes your way, it leads to greater levels of confidence and self-trust.
We don’t choose our emotional coping mechanisms. It’s something we adopt early in life based on a blend of what we observe others do, and our own temperament. The good news is resiliency is a skill, so you can always learn to build your muscles and take control of your direction. Which was exactly what I did as I sat on the other end of the phone resisting the temptation to bring someone else in to save the day.
Growing up Italian-American in NYC I learned two modes of coping with emotions:
1- Repress them until I blew up in anger.
2- Repress them until my anxiety boiled over.
Both took a toll on my relationships and my belief in myself. And neither left me feeling confident, strong, or calm. One foundational aspect of emotional resiliency is the ability to tolerate emotional intensity in our own bodies. Emotional repression keeps our ‘resilience muscles’ weak since we never actually cope with our emotional turmoil. Equally, ‘venting’ our feelings leaves others dealing with our energetic mess and zaps our faith in our own capacity.
Emotional empowerment evolves as we learn that we can center ourselves and regain clarity in times of stress. Through resisting the urge to pick up the phone and vent I found a new sense of inner strength and self-trust that I could build upon.
The next time you’re worked up, or emotional, here are two tools you can use to shift gears and create resiliency:
1- Focus on the big picture: Meaning gives us the fuel and motivation to make new, challenging choices. Understanding that calling someone else thwarted my goal to become resilient gave me more juice to try something new. In times of stress remind yourself of all the long-term power you have to gain by creating better coping mechanisms.
2- Breathe: You’ve probably read ‘Just breathe” a million times by now. That’s because it’s one of the most powerful tools you have. When our bodies are in emergency mode it’s impossible to calm our minds. Breathing deeply turns off our physical alarm bells by signaling to the body that everything’s okay. Then you can have a healthier conversation with yourself on what’s best to do next.
Of course there’s no simple magic bullet. I’ve specialized in Emotional Resiliency Training for years and igniting your full capacity for grace and ease is certainly a journey, not a cookie cutter path. There are moments you’ll need to turn to others, and times when you will have to repress a feeling for a moment just to function. But as they say, ‘the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a first step.’ Take one step towards self-soothing and you’ll be amazed at how transformative it can be in your life.
Vanessa Scotto is a Life Coach, Speaker, and Educator specializing in creating meaningful lives. She received Masters degrees in Chinese Medicine and Counseling Psychology. Over the past 15 years, Vanessa’s innovative blend of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Eastern Wisdom has helped hundreds of clients build purpose, joy and resiliency in their lives. For more info on Vanessa Scotto and her work, or or book an appt to see her at Yinova or via Skype, go to www.vanessascotto.com