It seems that now more than ever, people are prioritizing their personal health. Whether you’re practicing physical distancing guidelines or asking friends for online exercise class recommendations, staying healthy is critical during this pandemic – including your mental health and emotional well-being.
Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health, if not more so during stressful times. Stephanie Parmely, PHD, a behavioral medicine specialist with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group, shared why it’s crucial to maintain mental health and seek to be emotionally resilient.
Building Emotional Resilience
Dr. Parmely defines ‘emotional resilience’ as the process of healthily coping with adversity. “It’s not an outcome, but rather a series of attitudinal and behavioral choices for dealing with trauma, tragedy or other significant life stress,” says Dr. Parmely. People who practice emotional resiliency are much more likely to thrive when facing adversity, especially when they learn this young.
This practice can take place early in your life without even realizing it. For example, when we are young, we learn how to ride a bike, tie our shoes and calculate math problems. And while we’re taught these tasks by our parents and teachers at first, we receive less and less guidance as we master the task, allowing us to gain mastery over our own frustrations. Once we gain trust in ourselves to get through a challenge, we gain resiliency skills.
Working Out Your Emotional Muscles
Much like exercising every day, building emotional strength and resilience takes conditioning. But instead of lifting weights or going for a run, working out your emotional muscles requires only one exercise: optimism. This is done by seeing challenges as temporary and understanding your mistakes as behavioral choices. Optimism comes from a deep understanding of what is internal and what is external.
Everyone has negative thoughts throughout the day, whether we like it or not. Rather than ignoring negative thoughts and perceptions, question them. Ask yourself, “Are there any other explanations? What is the best-case scenario? What is the worst-case scenario, and can I live through it? What are the chances of that happening? If a friend were in this situation, what would I tell them?”
Dr. Parmely discussed how she shares her mistakes with other people who may have made a similar mistake. “I know from personal experience that it’s comforting when other people have made mistakes that are similar to mine and helpful to know what they may have learned from it,” said Dr. Parmely.
Tracking Your Progress
Keeping a journal is often overlooked. However, the practice not only engages the mind, but also helps us track emotional progress. Mindful meditation is also a well-known remedy for managing our emotional stress and journaling can help us drive that.
Dr. Parmely shared that our emotional growth can be difficult to notice because change is gradual, so journaling helps keep track of those changes. “You can go back and recall how you may have felt during another difficult time and remind yourself of how you got through it,” said Dr. Parmely.
And when writing down your experiences, Dr. Parmely recommends naming your emotions, because labeling something can help our brain differentiate between body sensations and emotions. In fact, studies have shown that children who practice expressing their feelings verbally are less likely to act out with physical aggression. The stronger the connection between our emotional brain and logical brain, the more emotionally balanced we can be.