June 13, 2021

The ABCs of Building Emotional Resilience.


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I have always been (and continue to be) an emotionally sensitive person.

I have learned over the years that I can’t simply throw my days together and be okay. I need a certain structure and routine in order to feel grounded.

When I don’t have those things in place, I feel like I am scrambling all day for a sense of connectedness.

Some of these things include morning physical movement, meditation, time for creativity, time for rest, and the right food throughout the day.

When these things are in place, I feel unstoppable.

They don’t always happen perfectly every day, but when they don’t happen because of external demands, life, or my own self, that day might be a bit harder for me.

As a result, I can approach myself with more compassion and understanding. I understand that I am not broken; I am just not getting what I need.

When I was working as a counselor, I had the privilege of working with Dialectic Behavior Therapy. Dialectic means that two things can be true at the same time. Such as, I can want to be better and—at the same time—accept myself for who I am right now.

One of the core components of Dialectic Behavior Therapy is skills training. That is where the behavior part of the therapy comes into play. The skills are designed to help highly emotionally sensitive people navigate life, relationships, and themselves.

Basically, these skills teach how us how to be well-adapted humans.

We all have emotions and have difficulty in those areas, some more so than others.

The skills taught are powerful and have been life-changing for my clients, as well as for myself and my colleagues.

I strongly believe they should be taught in school systems. I think all young people should be taught how to navigate life, relationships, and themselves, right along with fractions. Well, maybe one day.

That being said, I love writing and sharing on this topic because the skills are just that good and so helpful.

As stated above, I have always been emotionally sensitive. I wrote an article about orchid and dandelion theory. Orchid flowers are tricky to grow, but come with a rare beauty when they do bloom. Conversely, a dandelion can grow anywhere and everywhere and not be phased by a little thing like cement. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

My guess is that if you are reading this, you relate to being an emotionally sensitive person. All people have emotions, so it is not black or white; think more of a continuum.

Some people tend to fall more on the emotionally sensitive side (like the orchid), while others tend to be more like dandelions.

If you fall on the orchid side of life, in order to show up as your best self, extra care must be taken.

How you live your life will matter a lot to your nervous system. Thankfully, there are ways that you can build your life and take care of yourself that will allow you to be as resilient as possible when emotional triggers do happen.

From things like traffic in the morning commute, an excessive to-do list for the day, and even major life losses. Life doesn’t stop, and we can’t stop the stress, pain, or turmoil. But as sensitive people, we can take as good care of ourselves as possible so when things do happen, we can set ourselves up to be more flexible in the moment.

Here are some fun, easy (and hard), ABC skills to help reduce our emotional vulnerabilities:

A >> Accumulate positive emotions for the short and long term.

It’s all about doing little things for yourself that evoke positive emotions daily. As sensitive people, it can be easy to constantly feel like we have to feel and process the hard stuff. Feelings like grief, sadness, anxiety, anger, jealousy, rage can sometimes feel like they are always there for us. This skill is about giving ourselves permission to feel positive emotions. Doing so regularly can increase resilience over time.

The key is to be mindful when we are engaging in these activities. It won’t help to physically be doing the activity, while at the same time being stuck in our heads about everything we have failed at in our life. Set that stuff to the side, for the moment, and throw yourself into the activity. Dance like nobody’s watching if you will.

You may be already doing some of these or even do them regularly, but it’s most helpful to remember your intention of building emotional resilience while practicing for a better outcome. When we acknowledge how we are being skillful in our daily life, our self-efficiency can increase.

Here are things we can do to accumulate positive emotions in the short term:

  1. Read a book
  2. Go for a walk
  3. Visit a museum or art gallery
  4. Spend time with a friend
  5. Cook
  6. Soak in the bath
  7. Pay down our debt
  8. Go on vacation
  9. Go on a date
  10. Go to a movie or watch TV
  11. Jog or run
  12. Listen to music
  13. Read magazines, or newspapers (Elephant Journal is a great place to start. And look, you are already doing that)
  14. Start or continue a hobby
  15. Eat something you love
  16. Practice yoga
  17. Work on your car (or motorcycle)
  18. Have a quiet evening in
  19. Ride your bike
  20. Garden or tend to house plants
  21. Go swimming
  22. Spend time in nature
  23. Play or watch a sport
  24. Have family get-togethers
  25. Go camping
  26. Learn something new
  27. Knit, needlepoint, or sew
  28. Take a nap
  29. Go for a drive
  30. Do something artistic
  31. Create a gratitude list
  32. Entertain or have friends over
  33. Play a musical instrument
  34. Make or buy a gift for someone
  35. Go out to eat
  36. Get a haircut
  37. Drink a cup of coffee (you were being skillful every day, and you didn’t even realize it)
  38. Go to a play or concert
  39. Visit national parks
  40. Complete tasks on your to-do list
  41. Go to the beach
  42. Go fishing
  43. Play with animals
  44. Write or journal
  45. Dance and/or sing
  46. Go on a picnic
  47. Clean and/or organize
  48. Meditate
  49. Go to a farmers market
  50. Play cards
  51. Work on a puzzle
  52. Talk on the phone
  53. Listen to the radio
  54. Get a massage
  55. Go bowling
  56. Buy something for yourself
  57. Go horseback riding
  58. Volunteer
  59. Go to a flea market
  60. Start a collection

This is not an extensive list, and not all of these activities will feel positive to all people.

I strongly dislike bowling, for example. However, the more we can mindfully and intentionally create positive emotions throughout our day, the more it will help open up our emotional awareness to the positive aspect of the human experience.

Accumulating positive emotions long-term is all about living your life in a way that is in alignment with your values.

This is about building a life worth living. When you are in alignment with what is most important to you (even when life can feel hard, messy, or stressful), there is an underlying calm that comes from knowing you are on your path.

Values are like the pathless travels we take in life; they are there to guide our footsteps and direct us to live out our best version.

Here are some values that may resonate with you:

>> Family

>> Freedom

>> Security

>> Loyalty

>> Intelligence

>> Connection

>> Creativity

>> Humanity

Identifying your core values and taking the steps to make that a reality in your life is a game-changer.

For me, this looked like identifying the value of freedom, and removing or changing any relationships in my life that did not bring me a sense of freedom to grow and be myself.

When I made these changes, I found that life was still hard, but I was finally rooted down in what was most important.

I found I could handle the hard things much better with roots in my values. When life is not in alignment with your values, you may find that you are more vulnerable to becoming reactive to situations and more prone to negative emotions. It is your emotional body’s way of letting you know something is off.

B >> Build Mastery.

Building Mastery is about doing things daily that are challenging, but possible.

As humans, we need to feel a sense of mastery. This is so evident in babies. As the mother of a nine and half-month-old, I got to see this first hand. Our days currently consist of slowly building up the capacity to crawl. Each day I set out new challenges that are just a little bit challenging, but possible for my little guy to do.

When he does accomplish them, his eyes light up, and I get to witness his biggest smile. He has just built a sense of mastery with that task. That same need and desire are present in adults as well.

You might know the feeling after you clean your bathroom or kitchen, and you stand back to evaluate your work. Or when you check off that dreaded thing on your to-do list. Or finally, after taking that bag of donations in your car to the donation center. All of that is building mastery. It is building your sense of “I can do this.”

Or as Glennon Doyle says, “I can do hard things.” The key here is to pick things that are challenging, but not impossible.

It can quickly turn disheartening when we choose to do things that are not possible to do in that space or time. However, when things are challenging enough, we feel a great sense of accomplishment. This is also a great tool for days when you are in a slump. Accomplishing one hard thing that day and building mastery can be a great tool to raise your energy.

C >> Cope Ahead.

This is a fun one because we can finally let ourselves live in the land of worst-case scenarios. So often I hear that we don’t have to believe our thoughts, and we try to talk ourselves back from the edge.

I think there is a time and place for taking a step back from our thoughts. Likewise, there is also a time and place for indulging them. For this one, we get to say, “What is the worst thing that could happen with this scenario I am imagining?” Then, we get to imagine ourselves coping effectively in that scenario. This is empowering because it silences that voice that likes to remind us that the worst-case scenario is going to happen, one hundred percent because it just possibly might.

But we will be prepared if it does.

Recently leaving a marriage with a new baby, my worst-case scenario consisted of how I would not be able to provide for myself, or my child.

Coping ahead in this situation involved imagining being without the resources I needed, and getting in touch with people in my life that would and could support me through the transition. I imagined myself being calm and regulated as I sorted through each next right step. Instead of running from our fears, this strategy allows us to face them head-on with a tool kit in hand.

The ABC skills to help us build emotional resilience are:

A >> Accumulate positive emotions—short and long term.

B >> Build mastery.

C >> Cope ahead.

We can incorporate these skills into our world and create a solid foundation as highly sensitive people.

This is not all that needs to be done, but it is a fun place to start learning how we can best care for ourselves.

When the flower isn’t blooming, we don’t blame the flower. We look at the flower’s environment and ask how it can be improved.

Too often I see friends and clients (myself included) who go straight into judgment for not living up to certain expectations.

How brilliant would it be if we learned and accepted what we needed on a daily basis and made a commitment to make that a reality to the best of our ability?

The flower was never broken—it just needed its own brand of sunshine.


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