Why Emotional Resilience, Not Happiness, Is the Opposite of Depression (and How to Build It)

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You might think that happiness is the opposite of depression, but it is not. It’s emotional resilience and here is why.

In hindsight, I have to say, it is rather obvious that they can’t be opposites. After all, opposites can’t follow that closely upon one another, can they? I mean, I can’t count the number of times that the corner of the blanket lifted and I’d be filled with immense joy, only for me to slip back into that sea of misery a few hours, days, or weeks later.

There were even moments when I’d be in the middle of one of these bouts of depression when for a moment the fog would dissipate, the sun would shine in, and I would be laughing out loud, for the darkness to only reasserted itself as the moment faded.

If they really were opposites then that shouldn’t be possible, should it? Then, the one would be the other’s antidote.

So if it isn’t happiness, what is it then?

According to Peter Kramer, author of both ‘Listening to Prozac’ and ‘Against Depression’, it is emotional resilience. Of course, it is. Doesn’t that make an intuitive kind of sense to you?

Happiness with emotional resilience is robust. Happiness without it, on the other hand, is a brittle and fragile thing – a thing that may well crack and crumble when life smacks into it.

And so, if you want a happy life, then you need to build it upon the bedrock of emotional resilience. But how do you do that? Perhaps you need to drink some kind of strange tea made from a leaf that only grows on the western slopes of the Himalayas? Do you have to embrace the Kamasutra? Or is it a matter of regressing to a past life?

Nothing quite that exotic, thankfully! In fact, emotional resilience is within reach of all of us, if we just know what we have to work on. We just have to:

Get enough sleep

A tired brain is a depressed brain (to not even mention the dozens of other negative side effects) while getting enough sleep is a fantastic way to build up your mental fortitude and make certain you have the wherewithal to roll with life’s punches.

So how much sleep do you need? More than you probably think. Recent studies have shown we need somewhere between 7.5 hours and nine hours of sleep a night. Any of the following symptoms mean you’re probably not getting enough sleep:

  • You feel very sleepy after meals or during meetings
  • You fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow
  • You have to snooze all the time
  • On the weekends you feel the need to catch up on sleep

If any or all of those things are happening to you, then you should make time for more sleep. You’ll feel better and more resilient for it!

Eat right

Food influences your mood. And who is really surprised by that? Of course, you know what that means. Yeah, that’s right. No Sugar, white flour, caffeine or lots of alcohol. Stay away from processed foods and don’t smoke either.

Instead, get more omega-3, protein, whole grains, beans, potatoes, vegetables and minerals, vitamins in the range of B C, D, and E. All of that will build up your emotional resilience and make it so that the potholes on life’s road are just a minor inconvenience rather than something that can take out your undercarriage.

Try to get them from natural foods if you can, as they’re much more effective sources than pills.

Exercise

A tougher body means a tougher mind. And though it isn’t clear if it will make you happier, but it will certainly help you fight off depression and anxiety. So get some exercise.

That doesn’t mean you immediately have to go run an hour a day. Start out slow. Then build you way up. That’s better than if you go all out and quit.

After all, one of the ways that exercise builds you up mentally is by giving you the willpower to continue in the face of adversity – and that is a key in the emotional resilience game. But that won’t work if you quit. As an added bonus, getting enough exercise will help you sleep!

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is becoming more centered in the moment. It has a redonkulous number of benefits associated with it, including boosting our immune system, helping us focus, reducing stress, improving the quality of life and – yes – fighting depression.

With mindfulness, you realize that your thoughts and your emotions are not you but instead are transient. And that allows you to do a kind of mental jujitsu that prevents you from being pulled along by – and dwell upon – negative states. Yup, emotional resilience isn’t all about being tough. Sometimes it’s about being clever.

Maintain relationships

I know it’s hard when you’re unhappy. And yet it is vital that you do – be it with friends or family. The reason is straightforward enough. Friends and family are our buffers, our shock absorbers. They can help us cope when bad things happen simply by being there to listen to our woes. Also, they can offer us advice to get us back on top again, physically help us surmount our difficulties, and even warn us away from dangers and threats.

What’s more, they can give us a great amount of joy. And so, though the moment that you start coming back up after a bout of depression, start reestablishing your relationships – particularly the ones with people who aren’t judgmental or careless, so as to reduce the risk of being pushed back under again with a misplaced comment.

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2 Comments

  1. sonja September 15, 2016 at 8:02 am - Reply

    really good (insights) & well-expressed.

    • Jelte ten Holt September 16, 2016 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      Thank you Sonja! I’m glad you liked it.

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