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Why Emotional Resilience Is a Process

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Key Takeaways

  • Resilience is a dynamic process, and newcomers to an organization demonstrated more resilience than those who had been there longer.
  • People with greater emotional stability were better able to maintain commitment levels to the organization over time.
  • Retention was associated with commitment in terms of planning to return for another season and following through on that.

Resilience is often encouraged, especially during times of difficulty. Unfortunately, that may be more challenging than expected, as a recently published study in Group & Organization Management found that resilience is a dynamic process, rather than a fixed human characteristic.

Protecting your emotional resilience by practicing emotional regulation, boundary setting, and mindfulness will all help to avoid burnout and emotional exhaustion.

These recommendations are especially important, as equity-seeking groups are often praised for their resilience by those who possess relatively more power given how much easier it is to do that than to tackle pervasive systemic oppression regarding race and gender.

The Research

This study aimed to bridge the gap between emotional resilience and emotional exhaustion, by observing responses from 314 marching band participants at a large university over the course of 12 weeks. The findings demonstrate that emotional exhaustion increased while commitment decreased over time, but those who scored higher on emotional stability were better able to remain committed.

A limitation of this study is that research has demonstrated that resilience is likely to be impacted by factors of the groups to which participants belong, but this was not taken into consideration for this research.

Trauma Impacts Resilience

Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center, says, "The takeaway from this research is that individuals vary in capacity for emotional regulation to manage conflict, stress, and change."

While the research cites extensive research pertaining to the subject of resilience, Mendez highlights that there was limited mention of the individual traits, personality factors, and interpersonal coping styles that inform individual emotional and affective patterns in individual responses.

Mendez says, "Another aspect that is critical from a psychological perspective to the concept of resilience is the history, frequency, and intensity of psychosocial, sociopolitical, and cultural challenges that an individual has lived and endured. The concept of how adverse childhood experiences impact resiliency is also important to how an individual perceives a situation and how they take action to manage it."

Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT

Another aspect that is critical from a psychological perspective to the concept of resilience is the history, frequency, and intensity of psychosocial, sociopolitical, and cultural challenges that an individual has lived and endured.

— Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT

In her experience, Mendez explains that clients with a heightened capacity for emotional resilience tend to share traits of seeing the glass as half full rather than as half empty as emotionally resilient clients are more motivated to explore solutions, show curiosity, and take action accordingly.

Mendez says, "Clients with whom I have worked that are prone to emotional exhaustion and burnout share traits such as blurring boundaries, over-extending themselves, resorting to negativity and negative anticipations, engaging in excessive worry and despair, and feeling stuck, unable to see a way out or consider alternative options for coping."

In terms of recommendations, Mendez highlights that people who experience emotional exhaustion benefit from learning to set limits, practice mindfulness to stay in the present and validate their successes. "Engaging in mindfulness activities and recognizing the signs of stress in the body and mind is the first step to gain control of overwhelming feelings of exhaustion that also inform burnout," she says. 

Cultural Factors Matter

Ariel Landrum, MA, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist and certified art therapist at Guidance Teletherapy, says, "Resilience fluctuates throughout an individual's life. As their environment, support systems, and peer groups change, so do their levels of resilience."

Based on this research, Landrum highlights that individuals who had the ability to regulate their emotions were less likely to experience emotional exhaustion, so when people take the time to practice emotional awareness, they are less likely to become overwhelmed by strong feelings.

Landrum says, "This research study focuses on individual resilience, but community resilience needs further study, as there are systemic issues that affect people which cannot be resolved on an individual level. Examples include areas with little access to basic needs like clean water or grocery stores, limited public transit, or a lack of funding in schools."

Ariel Landrum, MA, LMFT

Cultural factors around commitment and duty can affect an individual's experience with resilience and burnout. Some cultures highlight the importance of specific demanding careers or longevity at an unfulfilling job, presenting longevity as a form of resilience.

— Ariel Landrum, MA, LMFT

Since resilience fluctuates over time, Landrum elucidates how this research recommends that large structures, such as employers or schools do regular check-ins with their employees and students. "Creating caring empathic relationships will allow employers and schools to learn when their employees and students may need some additional support," she says.

Landrum says, "Cultural factors around commitment and duty can affect an individual's experience with resilience and burnout. Some cultures highlight the importance of specific demanding careers or longevity at an unfulfilling job, presenting longevity as a form of resilience. In these cases, clients need to be taught the signs of burnout, and the ways their emotional exhaustion may even be taken out on others around them."

In terms of recommendations, Landrum encourages the skill of emotional stability to reduce the experience of burnout, as it may help to consider emotional stability as a muscle that needs to be exercised to strengthen it. "Practices like mindfulness, appropriately labeling feelings, and journaling, all help in strengthening emotional stability," she says.

What This Means For You

Resilience is not a trait, but a dynamic process that is grounded in emotional stability. Emotional resilience can be facilitated by developing healthy coping skills, including mindfulness and journaling, which may provide a protective factor against burnout.

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  1. Flynn P, Bliese P, Korsgaard M, Cannon C. Tracking the process of resilience: how emotional stability and experience influence exhaustion and commitment trajectories. Group Organ Manag. Published online July 13, 2021. doi:10.1177/10596011211027676