Developing Emotional Resilience

Learning to not be led blindly by our reactions

In this lesson, we’ll train our ability to remain calm and composed, a skill more formally known as equanimity, which directly supports our ability to regulate our emotions. Training this ability has been identified as a key part of mindfulness-based mental health treatments for anxiety and depression, with proven results.[1,2]

Whenever we encounter – or even just think about – unpleasant experiences, we naturally feel aversion. This natural tendency, developed over millennia of evolution, has led to automatic and habitual ways to keep ourselves safe in stressful situations (linked to our “fight, flight, or freeze” stress response).  

As we began to explore in Lesson 2, typically, we try to lessen unpleasant sensations and increase pleasant sensations. When we encounter something we don’t like, we often react by pushing away, avoiding, or turning towards something else to distract ourselves. While we might get temporary relief, it’s not uncommon for these reactions to cause us more difficulties than the initial situation. 

For example, if we get stuck in traffic on our morning commute, we might find ourselves getting frustrated. When we arrive at work (no longer in traffic), we might still feel reactive. Our shoulders may be tight and we may be more irritable or short with our co-workers. Here, it’s our ongoing reactions that cause us to act differently. The traffic is long gone, but we may still be carrying our reactivity forward into the rest of our day.

STEPPING BACK FROM REACTIVITY

Given our reactions are automatic and habitual what can we do? In the example of the traffic, as soon as we notice the signs that we’re caught in a reaction – the tense shoulders, the less-than friendly feeling towards our coworkers – we have an opportunity to step in:

  1. Recognize our reaction (e.g., irritation or hopelessness) as a habitual “built-in” reactivity to the unpleasantness of the situation, or more specifically, the unpleasantness of the sensations that we consciously or unconsciously feel in the body.[2]
  2. Investigate with Equanimity our internal experience (e.g., tightness in the chest) with a genuine curiosity and willingness to feel the sensations as they are in the moment. 
  3. Choose a conscious response that aligns with our intentions and values. While our emotions can inform our response, they are no longer driving us to unconsciously react.

In this process, we’re training ourselves to recognize our habitual reactions, helping us to step back and recover more quickly from reactivity. 

KEY COMPONENTS OF EQUANIMITY

Equanimity involves bringing an equal interest to our internal experience – whether it happens to be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral – and allowing it to be here, for now, without trying to change it or hold onto it. Equanimity involves three fundamental and overlapping concepts:

Equanimity = equal interest + non-identification + non-reactivity

EQUAL INTEREST

  • This means approaching each internal sensation (whether positive, negative or neutral) with the same level of curious attentiveness and non-judgment.

We began training this ability back in Lesson 2 through the body scan practice.

NON-IDENTIFICATION

  • This means “dropping the story.” Even if it’s just for 10 seconds, we let go of the story of a past cause or possible future of a particular internal sensation, or what its significance might be to us.
  • This allows us to experience it as a “bare sensation,” just as it is, without adding labels or judgments.

We trained this ability with the mindfulness of sounds and thoughts practice in Lesson 3, as we let go of the stories that we attach to particular sounds or thoughts, focusing instead on just experiencing themas passing phenomena. In this lesson we’ll develop a similar skill with our emotions.

NON-REACTIVITY

  • This refers to a genuine willingness to experience each internal sensation as it is, without any agenda to change it – or bargain with it – in that moment.
  • This involves cultivating a space between stimulus and response, allowing us to choose our actions and reactions consciously, rather than being driven solely by habit or emotional impulses.
  • This can help us develop a greater sense of control over our actions and emotions, leading to reduced impulsiveness and increased emotional awareness.

We will work toward developing non-reactivity in this 4th lesson, building off the practices from previous lessons.

Importantly, equanimity doesn’t mean suppressing or denying your emotions; instead, it involves fully acknowledging and experiencing them without immediately acting on them. This practice can lead to more intentional, skillful decisions and more balanced responses to various situations.

QUESTIONS TO KEEP IN MIND

Here are a few questions to keep in mind through Lesson 4 and your practice during the week.

  1. What helps support a greater sense of calm and composure? Are there specific activities, experiences, or attitudes that help?
  2. When you experience strong emotions, what happens? Do you find yourself getting swept up in them or trying to push them away?
  3. Can you notice any body sensations that show up when feeling stressed or down? What happens when you step back to explore these sensations?
  4. When faced with a difficult experience, how do you usually cope (e.g., avoiding, distracting, analyzing, pausing to form an intentional response)? How helpful is each coping strategy in the short-term? The long-term?

On the next page, we will introduce a new practice that brings together components from all of our lessons.

References:

  1. Wongpakaran, N., Wongpakaran, T., Wedding, D., Mirnics, Z., & Kövi, Z. (2021). Role of Equanimity on the Mediation Model of Neuroticism, Perceived Stress and Depressive Symptoms. Healthcare9(10), 1300. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/healthcare9101300
  2. Francis, S. E. B., Shawyer, F., Cayoun, B., Enticott, J., & Meadows, G. N. (2022). Group Mindfulness-Integrated Cognitive Behavior Therapy (MiCBT) Reduces Depression and Anxiety and Improves Flourishing in a Transdiagnostic Primary Care Sample Compared to Treatment-as-Usual: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Frontiers in psychiatry13, 815170. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.815170

THIS IS MEN'S HEALTH WEEK | JUNE 10-16TH, 2024

Men's Health Week takes place annually in mid-June, during the week preceding Father’s Day. The week is not just a campaign, but a call to action for men to take better care of their health and for communities to support men in this endeavour.

Men's Health Week 2024