The Hub If the world feels bad, here’s how to feel better

If the world feels bad, here’s how to feel better

Emotional resilience is the key to getting yourself out of a rut, says AU psychologist Dr. Carolyn Buzanko

Does it seem like everything feels a little bad these days? You notice it at the grocery stores, where everything is more expensive, in the summer with wildfire smoke filling the air, or when you turn on the news to hear about the latest crisis.  

All these factors—the cost of living, climate change, and other life stressors, like an upcoming exam or paper deadline—can make everything feel a bit bleak and impact your mental health.  

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are some things that can help, according to Athabasca University (AU) associate professor and registered psychologist Dr. Caroline Buzanko 

Buzanko’s research focuses on emotional well-being and resiliency, and she shares insight into why we have emotions, how they affect our minds and bodies, and how to cope when times are tough.

It’s okay to experience these emotions

Whether you passively follow the news or embrace a steady stream of social media doom scrolling, it’s important to understand how the emotions we’re feeling affect our minds and our bodies.   

According to Buzanko, there’s no such thing as a bad emotion. In fact, we need emotions to survive. They are considered an adaptive function—meaning they help prepare you to respond to environmental cues.  

“We need anger because we’re going to have to defend ourselves or things that are important to us. We need to fear because it keeps us safe. We need disgust, or we would eat rotten things,” she said.  

Being able to experience emotions such as sadness, malaise, or whatever else is important. It’s taking those emotions and growing from them that defines emotional resiliency. 

“So with emotional resilience, we’re able to experience a wide range of emotions. Sit with it. Accept it and grow from it, and that’s what we’re really looking at with resilience. It’s not just about bouncing back; it’s about thriving. It’s becoming stronger beyond what you were,” she said.

It’s also okay to sit with the emotions

Buzanko emphasizes the importance of taking time to experience emotions and reflect on how they affect our thoughts and physiology instead of trying to push them away. She compares it to a pressure cooker—eventually, the pressure is going to have to go somewhere—and that it’s not healthy to keep things pushed down.  

“We need to sit with that emotion and identify what we’re feeling. If we can name it, we can tame it.”

– Dr. Caroline Buzanko

She said that once you identify the emotion, take a moment to identify where you are experiencing it in your body and how it feels. Is it in your chest or stomach? Is it a clenching sensation, tingling, or stabbing? Is it on the right side or the left side?  

“Noticing the subtle differences when we drop into the body and identify that, we’re keeping our prefrontal cortex online, which is meant to calm down our amygdala. It is through this process that we regulate our emotions effectively.”  

The amygdala, located in the frontal lobe, is one of the brain’s major processing centres for emotions. By practising this technique, it can help get the brain out of a negative thought spiral. 

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable woman tying her shoelaces while exercising at the gym

Tips to take care of yourself

When you start to feel down, Buzanko recommends turning off the news and avoiding social media—at least temporarily. This can help you get out of that negative mindset.  

She also said exercise, connecting with people, and practising compassion and gratitude are some of the best things you can do to shift your mindset.  

Another tip for building resilience is to step out of your comfort zone at least once a day. If you tackle something difficult or uncomfortable every day, you’ll be better able to manage your emotions and boost resilience.  

And if you want to build long-lasting habits, you can start small by just changing one thing and pairing it with something else. Buzanko used the example of thinking of three things you are grateful for while cooking dinner. It’s an intentional thing that’s easy to accomplish but can help to snowball into something bigger, she said. 

“It’s about changing our behaviour, and it’s through our behaviour that our thoughts will change as well.”

Learn more about Buzanko’s research on AU’s Pure research portal.

Resources to help you build emotional resiliency

If you are interested in building your emotional resiliency, here are some resources to check out.  

  • Dr. Caroline Buzanko’s four-part series on unleashing resilience  
  • May 7, 2024
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mental health, psychology,