Building Emotional Strength:

5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience & Capacity

You might have noticed, we are big proponents of strength!  Strength has many dimensions. We talk often about strength on the level of physicality, including tissue adaptations and progressive loading to boost your capacity. But how do we go about building our emotional strength?

Yet physical strength is a biopsychosocial experience that spills over into the realm of emotional strength and mental health resilience. Strength is a feeling and we can train ourselves to get stronger in feeling our emotions.

That training helps us work through the challenges of strength training specifically and life adversities more broadly. 

“Reflection is not the same as relaxation – neither in the doing, nor in the results. Reflection is more like becoming stable and clear, even in the face of chaos around you – or inside you”. ~ Daniel Siegel, M.D.

These five benefits are in large part why we have created our new class:

Mindful Energizer with Christopher Bourke.

They may help reshape the way you engage with movement for your mental health. Chris brings many years of experience in movement and mental health.

This class offers an intentional blend of mindfulness, resiliency coaching and cardiovascular exercise to train your emotional strength capacity.

#1 | A Movement Space is Optimal for Training Emotional Strength

A movement space (especially our own personal spaces in these virtual times) is often a safer place and low-stakes scenario to explore feeling intense physical sensations and thought reactions.

While we may not be wrestling tigers or confronting someone in an argument, our physiology can experience heightened states of heart rate, racing thoughts and emotional reactivity in a situation that’s not actually life threatening (but might feel similarly).

We can essentially play and practice with what the mental health scientists call “hyperarousal” and dial the experience up or down based on what we need or feel capable of in that moment.  Keep reading for why this is useful and relevant.

#2 | We Can Move to Feel Safe and Experience Deeper Relaxation

A movement practice is also a wonderful place to help discharge some of the intense feelings we might be carrying and holding in us from daily stress and overwhelm. We can affect our mental and emotional states by affecting our physiology; even if we’re not necessarily engaging with the actual thing that originally brought us stress.

Our body can register we “ran” or vigorously mobilized to safety, and thus experience deeper relaxation.   This is why we end our class with a 10-minute mindful relaxation.  This creates the space to cue up relaxation capacity, welcome downregulation and offer an opportunity to mindfully witness how our emotional state may have shifted.  This also fosters a deeper trust that we can experience and regulate feelings.

#3 | Mindful Awareness During Strong Feelings is a Real Practice

Mindful practices have often been synonymous with quiet stoicism. And while there is no doubt many turbulent things that come up when we get still, some people struggle with sitting still and being inert. For some of us that’s because staying in one place runs counter to what a chronically hyper-aroused nervous system (as in trauma) wants to do. We want to BOLT!

The other thing is: it’s often not in quiet solitude and peaceful places that we find ourselves in the wheel of reactivity or overwhelm. We often struggle when stress is high, our thoughts are racing and the feelings are getting really big! This practice allows us to begin to notice and observe how we react (especially towards ourselves) when things get tough.  

Many people can fuse their feelings and their thoughts about themselves and/or others when strong feelings like anger arise.  We can become really self-shaming, self-punishing or think “oh I am so stupid!” “or I CAN’T DO THIS!!”.  This class offers an opportunity to notice how we react, what we say to ourselves, the stories we make of what’s happening and how that interferes with our ability to challenge ourselves or take rest.  We practice discerning what we’re thinking, and differentiating it from what we’re feeling.  We flex our emotional strength when begin to become aware of patterns of thinking and habitual beliefs that come up when we are doing tough sh*t.

#4 | Emotional Strength is Fostered with a Beginner’s Mind

The cool thing about awareness is that we can notice how the relationship with ourselves can shape our experience.  Does the internal chatter of “oh god, YOU SUCK at this” turn up the volume on the experience or help nudge you along? 

We can shine a loving light on the stories, meanings and associations we have about feelings, as well as how it might feel to engage with that differently (or at least on a slightly kinder level).   We can, as polyvagal therapist Deb Dana said in a podcast interview, “befriend our nervous systems” and learn to be kind to ourselves when we’re stressed out.

Often the experience of ourselves and sensation is mediated by assumptions + narratives we have heard before e.g. “you can’t do x, y or z because something bad will happen to you” OR “strong feelings are bad or to be avoided”.

We do not have the space or time to unpack the deep conditioning we all hold towards our self and emotions, and we may never know why or where it all comes from.  

We can start to observe and welcome a coach who believes in you, who meets you where you are and encouragingly nudges you on. We meet ourselves as if it’s the very first time – with no assumptions.  This coach or YOU trusts that you have what it takes to overcome the challenge.  That’s what Chris is there for, too.  He offers those reminders and cues not necessarily how to do this or that movement exercise, but how to cheer yourself on or deeply listen for rest if it’s there.  

What happens when we feel something like the heat of muscles working hard and say, “whoa, this is tough and I can do it! I can take breaks and keep trying when I feel ready!” Each time you may toggle it up a bit more and build your tolerance each time – kind of like progressively loading your mind + heart muscles!

#5 | Feeling Strong Translates into Other Contexts

Above we mentioned how the movement space is a safer place to explore and experiment with the experience of hyperarousal or feeling the feelings while you do challenging things for your body (and mental endurance).  Science aside for the cardiovascular benefits to cardio boosts, working directly and deliberately with our thoughts in this venue trains you to feel confident in other contexts.

Championing a round of jumping jacks and building yourself up to that capacity gives you the literal experience of encountering something tough and overcoming it.  That feeds into an overarching sense of self that believes “if I can do this, I can do it here, too.”  Training in one context supports growth in others (and this context is a safer training space!). 

We are so excited to offer this new class and expand how we strengthen our mind + body via the Mindful Strength Membership.   We’re really excited to offer a different way to work with stress and emotional strength that’s not always so quiet and gentle.

Many folks have a difficult time in those spaces.  And some gym cardio classes are definitely more oriented towards push and override.  Those contexts can feel tremendously overwhelming for people and then they are left feeling like their only option are the slow, mindfulness classes.

Chris and Kathryn chat about this in this episode and have chatted about this in another interview HERE.  

The class is LIVE via the Membership Platform Sundays at 10:00 AM EST.  Feel free to reach out to support@mindfulstrength.ca if you have any more questions.

Chris will likely be the one to answer your emails anyways!

Thumbnail for Chris Bourke's Live Class: Emotional Strength