Dr. Phillip Zentner is medical director of radiation oncology at the Douglas & Nancy Barnhart Cancer Center at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. He has trained in working with emotions for more than 40 years and is a certified mindfulness educator.
Here, Dr. Zentner explains emotional resilience and how it can help us to better cope with stressful situations.
When faced with an emotionally challenging situation, many of us respond in one of two ways: to either fall apart and come unglued, or “toughen up” and avoid the situation altogether. Emotional resilience takes a different approach, which is to meet the challenge with an attitude that is both firm and soft.
Emotional resilience refers to a person’s ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises. Without it, we have a hard time coping with stress and life changes — both major and minor.
There are many benefits to emotional resiliency. Emotional resilience can play a major role in how patients and families meet the challenges of a serious diagnosis like cancer. I’ve seen patients who have a well-developed sense of emotional resilience make better care choices in the beginning; handle the challenges of treatment better in the middle; and return to a more jubilant and vibrant life after completion of treatment.
Six tips for becoming more emotionally resilient
- Start small. Starting with smaller emotional issues can help you build skills and develop resiliency for the bigger ones.
- See emotions as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Emotions are an amazing part of our life — make friends with them.
- Separate the emotional experience from the cause that triggered it. Focusing on the reason for the emotion often re-triggers the reaction.
- Notice the wave-like pattern of emotional energy. Emotions rise, plateau and pass — and naturally resolve if not re-triggered.
- Move the body. Movement that alternates between the right side and left side of the body, such as walking, can be especially beneficial.
- Act or let it go. Once the emotion has settled, take action. If there is no action to take, let the energy wave pass and move on.