There’s a common misconception that mentally strong people don’t have emotions — or they suppress them. But this is definitely not the case.

Like everyone else, mentally strong people experience distress. Emotions like sadness, embarrassment, and anxiety are just as inevitable as they are uncomfortable (even for mentally strong people).  

But mentally strong people differ in that they reach for healthy coping skills that allow them to turn painful experiences into opportunities for self-growth.

They Label Their Feelings

Rather than insist they’re impervious to pain or deny that their feelings were hurt, mentally strong people acknowledge their emotions.

They also know how to name their feelings. They recognize when they’re jealous, embarrassed, anxious, scared, or insecure.

And while they don’t necessarily walk around announcing their latest shift in emotional state, they do acknowledge their emotions — even if it’s just to themselves.

They know that putting a name on their emotions helps takes a bit of the sting out of their feelings. (There is science to back this up). Simply thinking, “OK, I’m anxious right now,” can help them move forward.

It can also help them see how emotions may affect their judgment. So they check in with themselves a few times per day to see how they’re feeling.

They Recognize The Difference Between Helpful And Unhelpful Emotions

Emotions are often described as being negative or positive. Anxiety might be considered “bad” while happiness is viewed as being “good.” 

But every emotion can be helpful or unhelpful at times, depending on the circumstance.

Take excitement, for example. When you feel excited about your upcoming vacation, you may enjoy your days more. But if you’re excited about a get-rich-quick opportunity, your excitement may cloud your judgment and cause you to underestimate the risks you face. 

Similarly, when you’re feeling anxious, you might think about all the bad things that could happen if you give a speech. This could cause you to decline a public speaking opportunity that could really advance your career.

On the other hand, your anxiety might be helpful when it alerts you to danger. Feeling anxious about a risky business opportunity might open your eyes to some of the pitfalls in the plan.

In my therapy office, I often ask patients, “Are your feelings a friend or an enemy right now?” Their answer helps them decide how to proceed.

Here are some more specific ways emotions can be a friend or an enemy:

  • Sadness – Sadness can be a friend when it helps you honor something or someone you’re grieving. It could be an enemy if it causes you to isolate yourself and makes you want to stay in bed all the time.
  • Anger – Anger can be a friend when it gives you the courage to stand up to social injustice. It could be an enemy if it causes you to say something hurtful to someone you love.
  • Disappointment – Disappointment can be a friend when it drives you to try harder and do better. It could be an enemy if it causes you to declare yourself a failure.

Mentally strong people know that it’s helpful to experience or even embrace uncomfortable emotions as long as they’re helpful. If they’re not helpful, then they take steps to change how they feel.

They Rely On Healthy Coping Skills

Mentally strong people know they can rely on a variety of coping skills to help them regulate their emotions. Whether they exercise, listen to music, or call a friend, they have tools that can calm them down or cheer them up.

They’re careful about the tools they turn to, however. They understand that some emotion regulation tools can backfire in the end or even introduce new problems into their lives.

Emotional eating or drinking alcohol, for example, both have the potential to make things worse in the long run. 

Build Your Mental Muscle

Fortunately, everyone has the power to build more mental muscle. There are many exercises that can help you develop the mental strength you need to gain better control over your emotions. And as you become stronger, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever challenges life throws your way.