Strengthening the Emotional Muscle: Building Emotional Resilience in Rural Communities

Living in rural communities can be challenging because of the many barriers to accessing mental health resources. Being emotionally sensitive is sometimes looked down upon even in urban areas, but in rural communities, the existing stigma attached to seeking help can cause further difficulties. Additionally, individuals in rural communities are brought up with values of independence and fortitude. However, this may become counterintuitive if it starts preventing people from seeking help when they need it. How do these stigmas arise? Since childhood, humans are trained to hide their feelings and are raised with messages like “don’t cry” or “there’s no need to feel sad.” This advice generally comes from a good place, as adults often use this language in an attempt to soothe a child.

Emotions are something that we are born with and cannot be separated from us. Being emotional is characterized by having intense feelings and the ability to relate to feelings easily in oneself and others. Basic emotions like joy, sadness, anger, and fear are ingrained in us, but guilt and shame are learned emotions. As a result, we might:

  • Start attaching labels to ourselves: “too sensitive,” “over-reactive,” “too much.” By attaching such labels, we are unconsciously shaming ourselves.
  • Feel scared of sharing or talking about our emotions with anyone and therefore hesitate to seek help when required.
  • Start feeling scared of being vulnerable with others – and ourselves.

The societal message that we end up learning is that we should attempt to avoid feeling and expressing our emotions. In rural areas, this shameful message can become deeply ingrained and affect these communities twofold. This leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and cases of suicide due to ‘suffering in silence.’

Although acknowledging our emotions can be scary, the first step to building emotional strength and resilience is accepting our vulnerability.

What is emotional resilience?

Emotional resilience is the capacity to adjust to challenging circumstances and deal with life’s ups and downs. Intense emotions can either work in our favour or against us. When our emotions overwhelm us, cause distress, and hinder our ability to function, we recognize that they are becoming harmful to us. However, when we channel our emotions, they become catalysts for growth and movement. We can build this capacity to channel them and let them work in our favour.

Emotion = energy in motion

An important part of emotional resilience is learning to persevere, and perseverance is fueled by motivation. We have to persevere through hard times and still move forward. Ultimately, we are moved to action only by emotion. We can’t make our life’s challenges disappear, but with emotional resilience, we can overcome these hardships.

Sometimes we need light in order to move forward, and sometimes we have to move forward in order to find the light.

Steps to building emotional resilience in rural communities:

  1. Self-acceptance: When we accept ourselves completely, others and the world also start accepting us. Recognize that it is okay to have emotions: emotions are part of being human, and feeling intensely is okay.
  2. Practice acceptance of discomfort: The feeling of helplessness and uncertainty in the face of the unknown is the number one contributor to rural stress and mental health challenges. A recent movie on Netflix called Stutz has a powerful line that says there are 3 realities of life: dealing with pain, uncertainty, and the need for constant hard work. The sooner we accept that life consists of these realities, the faster we learn to tolerate tough circumstances and discomfort. Importantly, growth also happens outside of our comfort zone.
  3. Acknowledge the strengths of being emotional: Being emotional comes with certain innate strengths, and we must embrace them. They are the ability to empathize, being naturally intuitive, absorbing positive energy from the world, feeling fulfilled in nature, and being creative. Emotionality also gives us the strength to deal with tough circumstances. If we channel our emotions, they can give us the will to keep moving forward.
  4. Emotional regulation: When we are aware that our emotions can get the better of us, we understand that we must learn to regulate them. Emotional regulation is the process of understanding the intensity of our emotional arousal, coupled with the ability to stay calm and manoeuvre our response accordingly. We have to learn to identify our emotional needs, self-soothe, and be mindful of our feelings.
  5. Connect with others: We are social beings, and it’s important to step out and connect with others. Being open and sharing your vulnerability helps you relate to others and builds connections. Emotional resilience thrives on social connections. It is quite possible that there are others who are facing the same issues, but are hesitant to share their experience due to stigma or fear. You can take the first step by being an example and helping others build resilience, too. Volunteering in the community and getting involved locally can also help you focus on others and ground you.
  6. Practice setting boundaries: While connecting with others is important, too much of anything can be harmful. Protect yourself by learning to identify your triggers when you’re with others. Practice assertiveness and say “no” when required, and learn to ask for space and help when you need it. Fill your own cup before pouring into others’. Maintain balance and prioritize self-care.
  7. Inspire others: You can inspire others by honouring your emotional nature and allowing yourself to be human. Reject shameful labels and create your own, because only you can define yourself. Some examples of labels you might resonate with are:
  • Empathetic
  • Genuine
  • Compassionate
  • Intuitive
  • Emotionally connected
  • In touch with nature
  • Authentic
  • Refreshed
  • Re-energized
  • Conscious
  • Mindful

It takes the same amount of energy to think a positive thought as it takes to think a negative thought. The answer lies in your choice.

Living in a rural community and feeling isolated can be tough, especially because of the uncertainty, unique stressors and stigma around mental health. Nurturing your emotional self and building resilience to face these challenges will help you face these challenges.

Check out Stigma-Free Society’s Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit, which is full of tools that help improve mental health literacy in rural areas. We offer inspiring stories and a wealth of resources tailored for youth, seniors, families, and more.