Liahona
Developing Emotional Resilience throughout the Race of Life
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Digital Only: Young Adults

Developing Emotional Resilience throughout the Race of Life

As we go through the trials of life, there are some things we can do to develop more emotional resilience to get through them victorious.

Man running a competition

As a clinical sport psychologist, I work with athletes from a variety of sports. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of working with Brigham Young University’s successful cross-country and track teams. And although I’ve never been a competitive distance runner myself, I’ve grown to appreciate athletes that choose to run in these grueling races.

Part of my job is to help distance runners train their minds, along with their bodies, for the physical and mental difficulties brought on by long, pain-inducing competitions. That way, each athlete starts a race having already developed emotional resilience when those challenges show up along the way. Because no matter how much someone trains, there will be pain and struggles during a race. But their mental training helps these athletes push through the pain in order to reach their ultimate goal of victory.

I imagine our choice to come to earth was a lot like the experience of distance runners at the start of a race. We knew we would face challenges, but we accepted our Father’s plan and chose to come to earth anyway. Just like runners enduring the rigors of a long-distance race, we too need to develop emotional resilience throughout our lives. Doing so will help us successfully withstand the unavoidable trials and pain and keep our focus on our eternal goals.

What Is Emotional Resilience?

While other definitions exist, emotional resilience is defined within a gospel perspective as “the ability to adapt to emotional challenges with courage and faith centered in Jesus Christ.”1 It’s being able to work through adverse conditions, bounce back from stressful situations, and maintain our motivation.

This skill requires cultivating an internal sense of competence and belief while at the same time learning how to lean on others and their wisdom. It also involves fostering optimism, a healthy sense of control over our lives, emotional awareness and tolerance, and flexibility in problem-solving, and creating a life with meaning and purpose.

While developing all these characteristics may feel like a daunting task, we should remember that we’re not alone. Our Heavenly Father and Savior are there to help us develop the resilience we need to get through our trials. We also don’t have to do it all at once! We are constantly developing this blend of emotional intelligence and self-acceptance throughout our lives.

And fortunately, there are things we can do before, during, and after experiencing life’s challenges that can help us build emotional resilience.

Before

The first thing is to accept that there will be challenges in life. We already know that we were sent to earth to be proven, tested, and tried (see Deuteronomy 8:2; Abraham 3:25). Even still, we often try to live our lives avoiding certain struggles, but some challenges are inevitable. Accepting that doesn’t mean that we’re seeking trials—it just means that we’re acknowledging that difficult times, through no choice of our own, will happen. It’s easier to let go of the emotional drain of struggles when we first let go of the idea that we shouldn’t be struggling.

Another thing we can do is to become aware of and adapt to the emotional ups and downs of everyday life. At times we dull our emotional experience, thinking that we will save ourselves pain when more challenging emotions arrive. But all we’re really doing is avoiding the richness of our human experience. It’s normal to feel hurt, saddened, and anxious in our daily life. It’s also normal to feel happy, excited, and joyful! We’re taught that there’s “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). As we practice allowing ourselves to feel all kinds of emotions, we are building a tolerance for hardship, much like training muscles and conditioning for a race.

During

As we experience different situations that require resilience, it’s best to focus on the things we can control. There’s wise counsel in the scripture to “take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself” (Matthew 6:34). Much of the emotional duress we experience from difficult situations stems from being worried about outcomes or problems that are out of our control. But by determining and acting on what we can control, we reduce the amount of energy we spend on things we cannot change.

Another way to develop resilience is to learn to observe our feelings without judging ourselves for them. We often make judgments and conclusions about ourselves based on our emotional state. If we learn to simply observe and acknowledge our feelings without self-judgment, we can use our feelings as another source to help us choose wiser paths in our times of difficulty.

A third thing to do in times of trouble is to build a sense of interdependence—understanding how and when to lean on others. Through our young adult years, we often want to be as independent as possible. But a big part of emotional resilience is knowing our limitations and asking for help when we feel like our burdens are too heavy to carry on our own. We’ve been taught to rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19). Let Heavenly Father know you are struggling. Allow the healing power of the Savior to take over. There is strength in the faithful, humble decision to lean on others, whether they’re here on earth or on the other side of the veil.

After

As we move on from struggles, we need to practice giving ourselves the same compassion that we extend to others. Self-compassion involves practicing self-kindness, forgiveness, and mindfulness and receiving emotional support. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “As children of God, we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become. No!”2 As we work on having mindful moments, we open ourselves up to being more grateful for the variety of experiences we have had. We are more capable of seeing how we have benefitted from struggle and been strengthened through our resilience, buoyed by the help of our Father in Heaven and others.

Winning the Race of Life

As we exercise these principles and turn to Heavenly Father and the many resources He has provided to help us, we will build our emotional resilience as we run through this race of life.

President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) wisely taught: “Our business in life is not to get ahead of others but to get ahead of ourselves. To break our own record, to outstrip our yesterdays by today, to bear our trials more beautifully than we ever dreamed we could, to give as we never have given, to do our work with more force and a finer finish than ever—this is the true objective.”3 And that is exactly what emotional resilience will help us do.

Like long-distance runners, we can condition ourselves to move forward with courage and faith during trying times. And in doing so, the Lord will help us learn and grow and He will bless us with joy and peace, no matter what trials may come our way.