What Is Emotional Agility and How Can It Help Your Mental Health?

Do you often criticize yourself or struggle to manage emotions? Emotional agility might be the key. Learn how to navigate life’s challenges more gracefully by controlling your emotions, improving relationships, and fostering emotional intelligence.

Therapist Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta By Jaclyn Gulotta, LMHC

Updated on May 24, 2024

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Do you find that you are constantly criticizing yourself? Or that you struggle to regulate your emotions? Do you notice that you struggle to handle disappointment or setbacks? More often than not, we allow stress to overtake our thinking ability and impact our response — at times, letting stress derail us from the things we value most in life. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here, we’ll unpack emotional agility, a framework that can be adapted to positively influence our mental health, relationships, and how we handle negative emotions, helping us become more emotionally intelligent.

You can also find more tips on how to protect your mental health here.

What Is Emotional Agility?

Emotional agility is the ability and awareness to control your emotions instead of letting them guide you. It’s about being flexible with your thought patterns so that you can handle the different situations we face each day calmly and objectively.

Emotional agility helps an individual acknowledge and accept emotions as they appear without catastrophizing the situation or heading into an unhelpful spiral of thoughts. Ultimately, it provides a framework that helps people become comfortable with their emotions, no matter how uncomfortable.

Cynthia Mobley, an LICSW with Grow Therapy, says, “All too often, I hear from individuals who get stuck in their emotions, and they can’t move past them. Learning and practicing emotional agility can help with recognizing emotions and developing an understanding of patterns of thinking. This will allow them to accept and recognize the pattern the next time it occurs.”

Why Do You Need To Learn Emotional Ability?

Learning to be emotionally agile can benefit you at home and work. Emotional agility allows you to look at the greater picture instead of focusing on the sometimes minute details that derail you from the larger objective.

Some of the most common reasons that people need to learn emotional agility are:

If any of these situations sound like you, learning and practicing emotional agility may be a necessary step forward in prioritizing your mental well-being.

How Will Emotional Agility Improve Your Mental Health?

Emotional agility has been shown to alleviate stress levels, reduce workplace errors, help you become more creative and innovative, and improve performance and productivity at work and home.

Mobley agrees that practicing emotional agility helps with self-acceptance, a huge component of protecting and fostering positive mental health habits.

Being emotionally agile allows you to be fully open to difficult experiences and situations, such as finding a new job or confronting a friend about something they said that made you feel uncomfortable.

Emotional agility also allows us to see things from the perspective of others and come from a place of understanding, which can foster more positive relationships and allow more opportunities for building stronger communities and teams.

As we allow ourselves to be authentic in what we feel, we can connect more with others on a deeper and more intimate level. Building strong and positive relationships has profound impacts on mental health. This study that looked at the impact of social connectedness on psychological ill-health concluded that being more socially connected may cure many mental health problems.

How Do You Become Emotionally Agile?

Emotional agility can be learned, practiced, and implemented in everyday life. However, it is not something you can achieve overnight. The path to becoming emotionally agile requires looking inward and accepting that some inner work may need to be done to move forward.

Here are three actionable steps you can follow to start your journey to emotional agility:

1. Recognize That Stressful Thoughts Are Normal

The first step to being emotionally agile is understanding and accepting that everyone has positive or negative emotions. They are a part of life and shouldn’t be denied or avoided. When people try to deny that they feel a certain way or pretend to be happy when they aren’t, they display emotional rigidity, which is the opposite of emotional agility.

Although societal pressures can sometimes tell us that emotions have no place at home or in the office, this is a harmful mentality. The ability to feel is powerful, part of being human, and often a lesson to ourselves. Not only that but avoiding our emotions doesn’t work. Multiple research papers show that downplaying our thoughts and feelings only amplifies them and can harm our physical and psychological health, such as increasing our risk of experiencing depression.

Yet, if you find that you do suppress emotions, know that you’re not alone: In a survey conducted by Susan David with over 70,000 people, she discovered that over 30% of respondents judged themselves for having “bad emotions” and actively tried to avoid them.

2. Accept Your Thoughts and Learn to View Them Objectively

Learning to view thoughts objectively is one of the most challenging steps to emotional agility; however, it’s also one of the most rewarding.

We have been taught to react to our thoughts and feelings and that they all “mean something,” — but this isn’t always true. Stressful thoughts are sometimes just a physiological reaction to a trigger, just like sweaty palms. We can acknowledge our thoughts without taking them on board as facts or letting them call the shots. When we can witness our emotions, we stop attaching mental stories to them that are often untrue.

3. Be Guided By Your Values, Not Your Emotions

One of the most important steps to learning emotional agility is to bring your core values and beliefs to the front and center of your actions. When you lead with your core values, you can make small and big decisions based on your beliefs and who you are.

This means that truly understanding your core values will help you on your journey to emotional agility. A core value might be that you always want to be fair or that family is the most important priority in your life.

There are some thought-provoking exercises you can do to help you determine what your core values might be. Firstly, think of 2-4 people you hold closest to your heart. Think about why they mean so much to you. It might be because you have entirely transparent relationships with them or feel no judgment from them. These might be some of your core values.

Secondly, you can think back to some of the biggest moments in your life, whether positive or negative. These moments might direct you to what you care about the most. For example, if the most painful moment in your life was being bullied in high school, you might realize that one of your core values is being inclusive and kind to everyone.

Once you have determined your core values, you can begin to make your decisions with these values at the front and center.

How Do I Know if Practicing Emotional Agility is Right For Me?

Every person deserves to live authentically and honor the person that they are. Whether you are self-critical, unable to make big decisions, constantly feel overtaken by intrusive thoughts, or even just need some guidance on better self-regulating your emotions, learning emotional agility is for you. Emotional agility will help you become more emotionally intelligent, profoundly impacting your everyday life.

Get Help to Become More Emotionally Agile

Being emotionally agile can be the difference between regulating your emotions or spiraling out of control. It can dictate whether you have a resilient mindset or constantly feel defeated. Learning about emotional agility is important, as it can support your mental health.

Learning and implementing emotional agility isn’t a quick fix. It takes time and a willingness to commit to looking inward and exploring ways we may not be living authentically. The result is less self-criticism, a better handle on regulating emotions, objectively looking at disappointment, and many more benefits to health and well-being.

At Grow Therapy, we have therapists who can help you on your journey to becoming a more emotionally agile human. You can learn the actionable steps, such as recognizing that stressful thoughts are normal, accepting your thoughts and learning to view them objectively, and being led by your core values.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Therapist Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta Jaclyn Gulotta, LMHC

Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta is a licensed mental health counselor with over 10 years of experience in the mental health field. She helps individuals overcome numerous issues, including stress and anxiety disorders, self-esteem issues, relationship issues, depression, behavioral issues, and grief.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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