The one life skill you need to overcome adversity during life’s crazy moments.
As much as we like to think otherwise: there are many things in life we can’t control.
No matter how much we plan or prepare, life is unpredictable. There will always be external factors working against us.
Our cars break down. We lose our jobs. Our relationships end. Sometimes these things even happen all at the same time.
In these moments, a lot of us succumb to negative reactions—often worse than the situation actually deserves.
But there’s one life skill you can develop to remain unfazed in life’s craziest times.
It’s emotional stability—the ability to take life’s punches without getting knocked down to the ground.
I call it a skill because it’s not something that comes naturally to us. It’s something you develop, with awareness and intelligence.
In this article, we’ll discuss what emotional stability means, its benefits, and how to develop it as a life skill.
What is emotional stability?
In official terms, emotional stability is called “neuroticism,” the direct opposite of the term neurotic (emotional instability). Psychologists refer to it as simply emotional stability to not confuse both terms with each other.
Emotional stability means having the ability to deflect negative affectivity—the tendency to experience the world in negative emotions.
A person who is emotionally stable:
- is calm during stressful situations
- does not constantly experience negative feelings
- has a reasonable degree of self-esteem
- remains capable throughout difficult ordeals
But let’s put it into context, shall we?
I like to think of emotional stability as kind of like slacklining—being able to walk on a piece of webbing without falling down: the gravity and wind being life’s adversities, the rope is your negative emotions, and your balance is your emotional stability.
Think of emotional stability as training your emotional core. It’s your inner strength, your weapon against life’s hardest jabs.
What emotional stability is not
Let’s get one thing clear though:
Emotional stability is not about ignoring or suppressing your emotions.
Your emotions are valid—positive or negative, they are telling you something valuable. You get angry because you’re passionate about something. You get burnt out because you’re tired.
It’s important that you listen to what your emotions are telling you. Ignoring them is extremely unhealthy and is the very reason you become emotionally unstable.
According to neuroscientist Nicole Gravagna:
“Emotional instability is caused by a lifetime of trying to control your emotions. Controlling your emotions, tamping them down or limiting yourself to short periods of expression, for years or decades causes emotions to back up. Humans require regular emotional hygiene, and if you haven’t been doing that kind of thing, then you are probably backed up emotionally.”
Hence, emotional stability is also not about controlling your emotions, but rather not letting them get the best of you.
So acknowledge your emotions. Don’t label them as either “good” or bad.” Instead, simply accept and feel them when they are present.
I used to be so good at controlling my emotions. I believed that acknowledging them gave them power, that showing them was a sign of weakness.
When my parents separated, I took it upon myself to be the “strong” one. I didn’t cry. I refused to talk about it.
Looking back now, I realize I was attempting to control what I ultimately could not—my pain. What it did instead, was magnify my abandonment issues. It made me distrustful, even needy. And it affected my personal relationships and mental health for a long time.
Now, I know better. I accept and I am proud of the fact that I will always be emotional. I will always feel things deeply. It’s just that I am now more emotionally intelligent about my feelings and what they mean.
You, too, can cultivate emotional stability and apply it in every aspect of your life. With kindness and awareness, you can face life’s adversities with a high head and a clear heart.
4 benefits of emotional stability, backed by science
There are limitless reasons why emotional stability will do you good. But I’ve decided to focus on 4 major benefits that will make the biggest and deepest impact in your life.
Here are 4 life-changing benefits of emotional stability (backed by science, of course.)
1. It makes you wiser
Age doesn’t necessarily give birth to wisdom. As they say, “Everyone grows old, but not everyone grows up.”
Learning how to work through your emotions helps you gain wisdom in life.
A 2016 University of Chicago study suggests that emotional stability is a component of wisdom which “requires an interaction of both cognitive and emotional abilities.”
The researchers claim:
“It can be argued that those who become wiser in old age are those who can successfully regulate emotional responding in complex personal and social situations.”
2. It makes you happier
We’ve always portrayed “happy” people as outgoing and social. But happiness doesn’t require extraversion. It’s just a personality trait that’s not indicative of your ability to be happy.
Researchers from The Oxford Happiness Project found that extraversion doesn’t predict happiness. It’s actually emotional stability that is the “predictor of both happiness and life satisfaction.”
Emotionally stable people are happier because they don’t dwell on the negative areas of their life. Instead, they move forward with intelligence and resilience.
3. You learn things faster
According to a study published in the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences emotional stability increases productivity in learning.
Arthur E. Poropat, the study’s author explains:
“More emotionally stable people have weaker reactions to negative stimuli and hence are less readily discouraged, less distractible, and more confident in their own abilities. Consistent with this, more emotionally stable students are less anxious and pay less attention to errors, which facilitates learning from errors.”
When we make mistakes, we’re prone to focusing or even magnifying them. Having emotional stability allows you to shrug off your mistakes and try again.
4. You become unafraid of change and movement
Truth is, we all get anxious by change. We don’t like it when things are unfamiliar or unknown. That’s why most of us settle for less than what we want and deserve. We’d rather stay “safe” in our own small cocoons than chase the vast unknown.
Emotionally unstable people are so afraid of change, that it even affects their physical and mental movement. Research shows that “not only are they fearful of body movement in space but also they resist any change in their body that they may perceive as threatening.”
However, if you have emotional stability, you welcome change and movement. You chase after what you want even if it’s uncomfortable. Staying still is not an option because there are amazing things out there waiting for you.
How to develop emotional stability in your life
I’m going to be honest:
It won’t be easy. Emotional stability is something you learn only from experiencing the most uncomfortable and craziest moments in life.
Change, heartbreak, sadness, rejection—they’re all inevitable. But know that these are practice grounds to test and develop your balance.
Let’s get right on to the good stuff. Here’s how you can cultivate emotional stability to live your best life.
1. Look at things from a different perspective
Sometimes, all you need is a different set of glasses.
We all have tunnel-vision—we only see what we want to see. But you’ll be surprised how looking at things differently can help you assess negative life situations better.
Earlier I shared with you a difficult experience when my parents separated. For a while, I kept focusing on the fact that I didn’t have a “whole” family anymore. What do I do now? What would people say?
But I realized I had wonderful and supportive parents. And I realized that their splitting up made them better individuals, which made them better and happier parents.
In most cases, things could be worse. So try to focus your perspective on the things you can still be grateful for instead of the parts of your life that went wrong.
2. Create a plan that gets you moving
…no matter how small the steps are.
Sometimes it seems impossible to get through a painful emotional dump. Things happen that completely turn our worlds upside down.
Being emotionally stable doesn’t make you invincible to this kind of paralysis. But an emotionally stable person doesn’t stay in this dump for long.
What you should do is to create micro-plans: a checklist of things that can get you moving.
For example, after a breakup, when it’s difficult to get out of bed, try to do a simple thing like getting up for a shower. After that, you can plan to go for a walk or go shopping. Then you can go through more simple things in your checklist.
You shouldn’t expect yourself to get back up quickly. But you can challenge yourself to take one step at a time.
3. Allow yourself to fully express and feel your emotions
Earlier on, neuroscientist Nicole Gravagna mentioned something called “emotional hygiene.”
She defines it simply as “a practice of allowing yourself to feel all the way to the bottom of whatever emotion is present for you.”
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It’s about treating your emotions with respect. Your negative emotions, for example, are not something you just ignore or shrug off.
You need to feel emotional pain, pay attention to it, as well as address the psychological wounds it creates. Otherwise, they have no hope of healing.
4. Re-check your expectations
Here’s the thing: we don’t really expect things to go bad.
I mean, sure, we imagine the worst possible scenarios. But deep inside, we’re still optimistic that things will turn out fine.
So here’s what I propose:
Accept the fact that things can go wrong for a million different reasons. Not that it will, of course. But when negative life events do happen, they won’t come as a complete surprise.
Emotionally stable people appear calm in crazy situations because they’re not shocked that they’re happening. They didn’t anticipate it, but they know there’s a possibility they could happen.
In short, those who expect that life will throw you difficulties and disappointments are the ones who are the strongest and most resilient out of all of us.
5. Recognize your stress triggers
It’s a truth universally known that stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.
Stress is a normal human reaction to the unpredictability of life. We all handle it differently.
What will help us handle stress better is knowing what contributes to our stress load.
Emotionally stable people understand their stressors. As a result, they’re more prepared in stressful situations. Moreover, they know how to avoid situations that induce stress unnecessarily.
So take note of the things that stress you out and work your way around them.
6. Find activities that calm you
We’re so caught up in “achieving” and “acquiring” things in life that we neglect to stop, reflect, and center ourselves.
Try to step back from all that moving and chasing, and find time to do things that calm you.
While our careers, hobbies, and social interaction energize us, things like yoga, meditation, or writing ground us.
For me, it’s a bunch of activities that allow for introspection. I like to think of it as “feeding” my soul. I read, do yoga, travel—activities that make me question, reevaluate, and make me grateful for my life.
It doesn’t matter what it is. It just has to be an activity that lets you breathe and be alone with yourself and your thoughts.
7. Know when to ask for help
It’s true that emotionally stable people are calm and resilient in tough times. But it doesn’t mean they do it alone.
Emotionally stable people know that it’s okay—and sometimes necessary—to ask for help.
Trying to handle your emotions alone is just another way to control your emotions, which we’ve readily discussed is never a good idea.
If you want to develop emotional balance, learn when to draw the line between being independent and being stubborn.
Asking for help is not a weakness. In fact, it’s a strength. It’s never easy to show your vulnerabilities to someone else, but that’s called bravery.
8. Surround yourself with good people
“You are who you surround with.”
If you keep surrounding yourself with toxic and emotionally unstable people, that’s exactly who you’ll become.
You need to create a safe space for yourself. Find people who won’t judge you.
There’s nothing wrong with cutting people off from your life if they’re contributing nothing but unnecessary pain. Emotionally stable people understand this best.
They know that friendship needs constant updating. It’s hard to let people go, yes. Especially if you’ve shared so much of yourself with them.
But your happiness and well-being also depend on the people you keep in your life. So take a good look at the company you’re keeping and evaluate whether or not they’re adding value to your life, not devaluing it.
9. Be authentic
How will you encourage balance in your life if you don’t feel balanced inside?
Emotionally stable people are so good at blazing their way through difficult life experiences because they are so secure in who they are.
That’s what grounds them. The ability to be comfortable in their own skin is the very thing that roots them upright.
They draw their strength in knowing that everything they do is based on their own beliefs. They don’t ever exert effort in something they don’t believe in.
We experience an emotional tug-of-war because we are not authentic to how we really feel, what we really want, and who we really are.
Mindfulness and emotional stability
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a psychological process that allows you to pay attention to experiences as they happen without judgment.
It’s about fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing, and where you are.
Mindfulness plays a huge part in emotional stability because it represents one single factor:
It allows you to be not overly reactive to the negative situations happening in your life.
Studies have repeatedly shown the impact of mindfulness on emotional stability.
A study from the University of Utah examined how people who practiced mindfulness went about their normal life. Researchers found that they “have more stable emotions and perceive themselves to have better control over their mood and behavior throughout the day.”
So there’s no denying that mindfulness can help us become more emotionally intelligent and resilient.
But I think a lot of people still shy away from mindfulness and its practices because it’s still cloaked in an air of exotic mystery.
Here’s the thing: mindfulness is simple and straightforward. In fact, it’s nothing special. Anyone can do it. So why not try?
Here are some simple mindfulness practices for emotional stability you can try right now:
1. Mindful walks
Find some time once or twice a week to take walks somewhere calm and peaceful. Designate at least one minute of your walk to simply being in the moment.
Be silent and simply pay attention to wherever you are. Notice things you haven’t looked closely before. Evaluate how you’re breathing and feeling.
Just be present.
2. Self check-in
Sit still. Be alone with your thoughts and emotions. How are you really feeling? What are you thinking? Check-in on yourself from time to time and really notice what’s going on inside you and in your life.
Breathe, relax, and be calm. Do a weather report on your emotions. Is it sunny? Stormy? Cloudy?
Don’t react. Step back and observe your feelings. Just like the weather, you can’t change your feelings. But remember, you can change how you react.
Tell yourself: You are not your emotions. Simply accept them and learn from them.
3. Practice gratitude
Do this every single day. You can keep a gratitude journal but it’s not necessary.
Simply allot each time every day to quiet down and assess all of the things you can be grateful for in that day.
This is particularly helpful to bring positive awareness in your life. It helps reevaluate your perspective. It can also improve your compassion for others, which is linked to regulating your emotions and balancing your mood.
If you can choose only one life skill that will help you navigate your way through life’s biggest ordeals, choose emotional stability.
We all talk about finding the meaning of life and pursuing our purpose. But I believe that the biggest and most positive change you can contribute to the world is yourself—a healthy, complete, and amazing individual that can spread light to everyone you touch.
And I believe that it all starts with your capacity to love yourself completely. If you love and accept yourself, your experiences, and yes, your emotions, you can not only improve your life but the lives of everyone around you.
So work on yourself first, and everything will come easier after.