Close your eyes for a moment and think back in time to a defining moment in your life. Maybe it was the day you faced a daunting job interview. Or perhaps it was when a relationship encountered turbulence.
Those instances were the crossroads of vulnerability and strength. And chances were, you sought the wisdom to rise above the challenges that they presented.
Now imagine embracing those vulnerabilities as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks. You navigate the ebbs and flows of emotions. And there lies solace in the acceptance of your feelings and the promise of emotional resilience.
It’s all about how you “bounce back” from difficult emotions, according to Nawal Mustafa, a cognitive neuroscientist who’s also known as @thebraincoach.
Nawal Mustafa is a cognitive neuroscientist and mental wellness educator. With her expertise, she can be found empowering individuals to embrace their emotions, bounce back from challenges, and cultivate lasting well-being. Through her warm and relatable approach, Nawal provides practical tools for emotion regulation, setting boundaries, and navigating interpersonal dynamics.
In a sit-down with Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, the co-founder of Mindvalley and author of Becoming Flawesome, on Honest Conversations, she unravels the secrets to achieving emotional resilience, helping you find newfound strength in your journey through life.
What Is Emotional Resilience?
Emotional resilience is far from being a mere façade of positivity. It encompasses the profound wisdom to embrace the rollercoaster of human emotions and to acknowledge the shadows as well as the light—all this without judgment.
The “emotional resilience” definition, according to the American Psychological Association, “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences.” And there are several factors that influence how effectively individuals adapt to adversity:
- The way they perceive and interact with the world,
- Having a strong support system, and
- How they cope with stress and difficult situations.
“Resilience really is how you are able to bounce back when you feel uncomfortable [with] difficult emotions.”
— Nawal Mustafa, cognitive neuroscientist
For example, feeling anxious, angry, or disappointed are emotions we often sweep under the rug, pretending that everything is okay. Either that or allowing it to take over and ruin the entire day.
That’s not the key to feeling worthy. Rather, being emotionally resilient means knowing how to transform this emotional pain into something positive. It’s acknowledging the vast range of feelings that color your life, much like a master painter who embraces every hue on the palette.
Acceptance vs. Regulation
Emotional resilience is about both accepting your feelings and regulating them. But what’s the difference between the two?
“Acceptance really just means naming the emotions [and] seeing them as they are,” Nawal explains. “Once you accept it, you know what you are feeling. That’s when you decide, ‘Okay, now it’s time to regulate it.’”
Here’s an example:
Imagine you receive some critical feedback from your boss at work. You believe you’ve been doing your best and don’t understand why the feedback is so negative.
So, your initial reaction? You feel hurt and defensive.
In this situation, acceptance would involve acknowledging and being you within the hurt and defensiveness (without judging or suppressing those emotions, of course).
“It’s okay to feel hurt by this feedback,” you might say to yourself. “It’s natural to want validation for my hard work.”
On the other hand, regulation would come into play when you start to recognize that dwelling on these emotions may not be productive and could hinder your growth. So, instead of festering on those negative feelings, you decide to take a step back and analyze the feedback objectively.
You might ask yourself, “Is there any truth to this feedback? Can I use it constructively to improve my performance?” By regulating your emotions, you create space to process the feedback and respond in a more balanced and constructive manner.
And by doing both, this helps you learn to flow with the currents of life rather than resisting them.
Why Is Emotional Resilience Important?
If there’s any certainty in life, it’s that it’s bound to have its challenges and uncertainties. That makes emotional resilience more vital than ever, equipping you to weather the storms of demanding careers, navigate the maze of complex relationships, and find balance amidst the chaos.
The thing is, many people overestimate how resilient they really are. In a 2019 survey called “The State of Resilience,” 83% of Americans believed they had high levels of emotional resilience. However, upon closer examination, only 57% demonstrated this.
Research has shown that this coping skill has a significant effect on both mental and physical well-being. People who are resilient tend to experience less stress, anxiety, and depression, leading to a more satisfying and content life. What’s more, being mentally tough helps break the cycle of seeking validation from others and fosters a stronger sense of self-worth.
How to Build Emotional Resilience: 3 Tips From Nawal Mustafa
“Don’t be sad.” “Stop your tantrums!”
How many times have you heard this as a child? Chances are, you’ve been part of this “positive vibes” movement for so long that resiliency isn’t something that’s innate for you. But the thing is, you’re going to experience all sorts of emotions—this is a very natural human response.
“Whenever we experience something—a situation, a thought, whatever—it’s the emotions that come up first,” Nawal explains. “And then, it’s up to us on how to regulate it.”
So where can you start? Here are three practical tips that Nawal shares on Honest Conversation to help you cultivate resilience and emerge as the architect of your emotional landscape.
1. Increase Self-Awareness
Building emotional resilience starts with understanding ourselves better. That means peering into the depths of your emotional landscape to understand the intricate tapestry of your feelings.
What things or situations trigger a strong emotional response in you? Is it when your partner leaves dirty socks on the floor? Is it the coworker who always takes the last jelly donut from the office pantry? Or perhaps the news?
“If we’re feeling it, it is important to work through it and to really understand it,” Nawal advises.
When you’re able to recognize this, you can connect with your strengths and vulnerabilities. And in doing so, you’re better able to navigate life’s challenges with a sense of calm as well as know when to set healthy, conscious boundaries.
Tip from Nawal Mustafa: One effective technique Nawal recommends for managing emotions is the “stop” technique.
- S: Stop for just a moment.
- T: Take a breath.
- O: Observe your experience.
- P: Proceed accordingly.
This approach helps you respond thoughtfully instead of reacting impulsively.
2. Recognize and Work Through Your Emotions
Emotions come in all shapes and sizes. And sometimes, mislabeling them or avoiding them altogether can have the opposite effect of what you hoped for.
An instance of this would be when someone asks, “How are you?” For many of us, the instinctual response would be “Fine.” But according to Nawal, that’s a disservice to yourself.
“You’re really lying to yourself,” she explains. “There’s no one else benefiting from you recognizing and working through your emotions except you.”
The end goal isn’t to squash these negative emotions. Rather, it’s how you can regulate yourself to feel calm in the situation you’re in and set realistic expectations with those you interact with.
Tip from Nawal Mustafa: Instead of responding with “Fine” when you’re really not, Nawal suggests saying something like “I just don’t feel good right now.”
“That’s a good start,” she explains, “because at least you recognize that something in your body doesn’t feel right, something in your mind doesn’t feel right.” And that’ll help you seek what you need to feel better.
3. Understand Personal Values and Motivators
At the core of emotional resilience is how you align your actions with your values. Because here’s the thing: when you live in harmony with your values, you create a strong and authentic foundation for your emotional well-being.
For example, if you’re an introvert, you’re more than likely going to get overwhelmed when you’re in highly crowded spaces for too long. So if you recognize and acknowledge that feeling, then you can be like, “Okay, I’m going to this social gathering but leaving by 9 p.m.”
You have the ability to put up healthy boundaries. And this is especially important when someone is trying to emotionally invalidate you.
“If a person says, ‘No, that’s not true; you’re being overly sensitive,’” says Nawal, “it’s important to redirect them and say, ‘Well, what I’m feeling is true; it’s valid. What I’m feeling—it makes sense to me, and I would really appreciate if we could have a conversation about it.’”
With emotional resilience, being able to “bounce back” is one thing. But it can also help you pause long enough to see how you’re being triggered—whether it’s the other person’s intentions or whether you’re just taking it the wrong way.
Tip from Nawal Mustafa: “Instead of trying to find positive emotions, positive experiences, or passion through things that you think are probably good, really understand what you need [and] what your values are. [This] allows you to then understand your emotions a little bit better because you’re not in spaces that leave you feeling anxious, not good, or that deplete your energy.”
Rising From Resilience
Emotions, even the ones we deem negative, can be your greatest ally. It’s your mind’s way of communicating with you.
That’s why cultivating emotional awareness is a superpower. By being non-judgmental about your feelings, you can break free from the idea of perfectionism and, instead, embrace life’s ups and downs as part of your journey.
You can take the first step by watching the full interview on Kristina’s YouTube channel.
Tatiana Azman is a content writer for Mindvalley and a Certified Life Coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as being a cancer survivor, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.