3 Keys to Emotional Stability
How to stay grounded in times of stress
Originally published by Stephen Guise on his personal website.
Simply put, if you aren’t emotionally stable, life will be difficult.
Emotional stability is vital to a good life because without it, you are prone to emotional breakdowns, which can spiral and ruin a season (or more) of your life. Emotional stability is the boxing equivalent of being able to take a punch, stay grounded, and not panic.
3 Keys to Emotional Stability
Emotional stability is similar to resilience as both terms involve being able to withstand hardship. The article I wrote on how to be resilient focused on staying active and getting back up after you get knocked down hard. This article is more about taking life’s smaller jabs and punches without losing your balance. When you lose your balance because you aren’t emotionally stable, you’re at greater risk of getting knocked down and out.
Here’s how to keep your composure when life gets tough.
1. Adjust Your Perspective
Something bad has just happened. Your car broke down. Your significant other broke up with you. You fractured your foot. All at the same time. Just kidding, those are separate examples.
Our immediate emotional response to negative life events is often stronger and more negatively charged than it needs to be. That’s because we rarely expect things to go wrong in any given moment, but they sometimes do. To counteract this, I recommend a perspective shift, which might look something like this.
- Your car broke down: Only 10–20% of people in the world even own a car. You’re very fortunate to even have a car! Of those who own cars, many others have surely had worse and more inconvenient breakdowns. Plus, it can be fixed. This incident is not as terrible as it feels right now.
- Your S.O. broke up with you: Think about the good times you had. Think about the lessons you’ve learned. Think about the excitement of now being a “free agent” again and finding someone even better suited for you.
- You fractured your foot: Hey, fractures can heal! Plus, you finally have a legitimate excuse to binge on that TV series. You also have time to catch up on your reading backlog and write that novel. A healthy foot beats an injured foot, but there are still positives to consider!
Every situation has many possible perspectives. I think by default we tend to pick the worst one because negative events bias our mind to negative thoughts about those events. But if we consider other, more positive perspectives, we can reverse this negativity cycle. Look for the positives in negative situations — they’re there!
Beyond the specific situation, you can always look to your foundational blessings to help balance out your emotional state. Foundational blessing? I haven’t heard of it either. I just made it up. In my defense, I think it’s fitting and descriptive.
A foundational blessing is something in your life that you can always be thankful for: a great family, excellent health, money in the bank, a job you love, or an adorable kitten, for example. These are the blessings you can count on. Then, when life slaps you in the face, you don’t have to focus on the slap — you can look at your foundational blessings to see your life from a broader point of view. When your car breaks down, you can think about your awesome family, and suddenly, the car is more of a minor nuisance than a devastating blow.
2. Check Your Expectations
If you want to be emotionally unstable, expect your life to be a smooth ride. Life can be enjoyable, but it’s never smooth! At best, life is a highly enjoyable but turbulent adventure.
Those who let the downs of life ruin their day (or year) clearly weren’t expecting a roller coaster. If you expect a calm walk in the park and find yourself on a roller coaster instead, it can be jarring and upsetting.
It’s not that roller coasters are so bad, it’s that you weren’t expecting one.
But what if you expected uncomfortable bumps, occasional downturns, and scary dips in your life? You wouldn’t need to expect or predict them at any specific time, but rather be aware that they’re common occurrences for all people. Naturally, the less surprised you are at negative events, the less emotionally reactive you’ll be when they do happen.
They call it rolling with the punches, and you can’t roll with a punch that catches you off guard. Emotionally stable, strong people are never shocked to see a punch come their way, and that’s why they don’t freeze like a deer in the headlights when it comes.
Those who expect that life will have challenges and disappointments will be the most resilient and emotionally stable among us.
3. Create An Action Plan
If all else fails, and you’re still in the dumps emotionally, you won’t escape unless you take action. Emotional turmoil is difficult to escape sometimes because it depresses our entire system. When we feel bad, we have less energy, less motivation, less willpower, and fewer ideas.
While it can be difficult to do things in this state, you should still be able to start forming a plan of action. What steps can you take to improve your situation? You’ll find that simply clarifying your intent is enough to create a powerful spark inside of you that can lead to action.
Moving life forward is key to emotional health because it’s the ultimate sign that you haven’t given up. When we are inactive, we signal to ourselves and the world that we’ve given up for now. Giving up is obviously a disheartening idea, so don’t let yourself become inactive for too long after a negative event knocks you back. Small steps forward are infinitely better than no steps taken at all.
I’ve found that much of my emotional health is driven by my activities. When I’m in a “down” state and I don’t do anything productive, my lack of productivity reflects my mental state and it reinforces it. When I’m in a down state and I force myself forward anyway, my actions contradict my down mental state and a new (better) mental state is formed to align with my actions.
Thus, creating action plans and taking action are very helpful to reinforce your emotional health and stability. I especially notice this benefit with exercise, as the resistance of weight represents the resistance I feel in my life. It really pumps me up and puts me in that fighting stance!
Emotional Stability Recap
1. Adjust your perspective by focusing on the positive opportunities introduced by negative events. Also consider the foundational blessings in your life to get a broader view. We’re most vulnerable to emotional turmoil when we focus solely on negative things.
2. Check your expectations. Are you expecting a smooth, linear, predictable life of goodness? Well, it won’t ever happen to anyone. The next time something bad happens to you, think of it as a challenge instead of a huge problem. Be ready for challenges, and they won’t catch you off guard.
3. Create an action plan. This is the counterattack. We can’t merely take punches and expect to win. We have to punch back! Going on the offensive is the #1 way to show life that you aren’t scared or weak. Even if you feel scared or weak — as we all do sometimes — taking action will simultaneously build your confidence back and create exciting new opportunities.