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Using science and the gospel to build emotional resilience amid trials

Understanding science and the gospel will help build emotional resilience amid challenges such as stress, depression and anxiety, taught instructors at BYU Education Week

Mental health is a major theme of several offered classes this year at BYU Education Week, with topics including depression, anxiety, emotional wellness and emotional resilience. 

David T. Morgan, a licensed psychologist with around 20 years experience, defined emotional resilience in the following ways — the ability to adapt to disturbing events; to absorb stressors and return to an original state; the ability to bounce back from adversity, frustration and misfortune; personal qualities that enable one to thrive in the face of adversity. 

Eternal purpose and identity

When teaching a course on Tuesday morning, Aug. 16, Morgan said clients will often ask him why they are facing challenges. He pointed out that people chose in the pre-existence to come to earth and be tested and tried. 

Morgan gave the analogy of iron being refined through fire to become something better — the refiner’s fire.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in April 2017 general conference: “ ‘Come as you are,’ a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, ‘Don’t plan to stay as you are.’ We smile and remember that God is determined to make of us more than we thought we could be.” 

With this in mind, Morgan said the two facets of emotional resilience are: “Know who you are, and know your purpose.” 

Dr David T. Morgan is a Latter-day Saint and a licensed psychologist, counselor, author and motivational speaker. | David Morgan

God’s children were sent to earth to have a mortal experience, but they have an eternal identity and an eternal purpose. And Satan tries to distract from this. 

“That’s why we are here, not just to get through life barely clearing the bar to get into the celestial kingdom — we want to clear that thing by six feet, because we’ve done so much and improved so much over our original condition.”

Opposition in all things

Lyle J. Burrup, who is now retired from the Church’s Family Services Department, taught a series of classes on depression, anxiety and developing resilience. 

Burrup pointed out in a Monday session how the chapter of 2 Nephi talks about opposition and joy. 2 Nephi 2:11 reads, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” without which there would be no “happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.”

While later in verse 25 it says, “Men are, that they might have joy.”

He quoted Brigham Young’s teachings: “We must know and understand the opposition that is in all things, in order to discern, choose and receive that which we do know will exalt us to the presence of God” (Journal of Discourses).

Burrup also pointed out the word “sense” from 2 Nephi 2:11, saying that sensibility is the ability to perceive and feel using the five senses. “If we didn’t have opposition, we wouldn’t have sensibility. That’s a God-given gift,” Burrup said.

Lyle J. Burrup, retired from the Church’s Family Services department, teaches about mental health at BYU Education Week in Provo, Utah, on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. | Brooklynn Jarvis Kelson/BYU

Burrup wrote an article for the Ensign in March 2017 about anxiety and anxiety disorders, and an article in the March 2013 Ensign about raising resilient children. He told his class members that he hoped they would value sensibility and accept, value and learn from opposition. 

“That’s a hard one, accepting opposition in your life. It’s uncomfortable, we don’t like adversity and opposition. But it can teach you a lot of things,” he said.

Control

Reducing stress, worry and anxiety can be possible by understanding the concept of control. A person cannot control what events and experiences happen to them — but they can control how they feel and think about it.

Burrup taught that events and experiences pass through people’s belief systems and cause them to have emotions and feelings.

“You cannot change events, but you can change thoughts and beliefs [about them],” he explained. “This will help change how we feel.”

Tana S. Page lectures on developing a positive mindset during BYU Education Week in Provo, Utah, on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. | Brooklynn Jarvis Kelson/BYU

Tana S. Page, the co-director of Global Health Internships at BYU, taught attendees in a Monday class to “focus on your circle of influence. Identify which things you can control, and which things you can’t.”

As people put their focus on what they can influence, they will find that influence grow, she said.

Morgan said emotional energy, like physical energy, can run out. If someone uses all their emotional energy fighting external things that are happening to them, that leaves very little energy for them to deal with what is happening inside of them, he said. 

“The question is, ‘What am I going to do differently?’” Morgan asked.

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Change the thinking

The instructors spoke about how to change one’s thinking. Burrup said every thought creates brain chemistry, which then affects the body.

“When you are being self-critical, you are creating new brain chemistry and flooding your body with that,” he said. “When you think of something kind about someone, you are creating brain chemistry and flooding your body with that. You need to be careful what you flood your body with, what kind of chemistry.”

Page outlined how to have a more optimistic mindset, through the three Ps of optimism: 

  • Personalization — It’s not all one’s own fault
  • Permanence — It’s temporary
  • Pervasiveness — It’s not all bad.

Summing up, she said, “An optimistic person does not take personally what is not personal; they recognize this will not last forever and it’s not all bad.”

Morgan invited his class members to change their thinking about the events and experiences happening to them: “Your trials are not going to change necessarily, but you can change the way you think about them. It’s going to make a difference.”

Attendees smile and talk during a break between Lyle J. Burrup’s classes at BYU Education Week in Provo, Utah, on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. | Brooklynn Jarvis Kelson/BYU

He shared a quote from an October 2013 general conference talk by Sister Linda S. Reeves, former second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. 

Sister Reeves said, “The trials and tribulation that we experience may be the very things that guide us to come unto Him and cling to our covenants so that we might return to His presence and receive all that the Father hath.” 

In speaking about that, Morgan emphasized, “You can’t change the trial, but you can absolutely change how you look at it.”

Being emotionally resilient

Burrup encouraged his class to realize how much growth can come through adversity. Positive changes relate to the development of important qualities of character, such as diligence, generosity, love, purpose and humility.

Thus, adversity may provide opportunities for the development of important character traits, he said, echoing Paul’s insight that “we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

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Page said when one changes their thinking, it will affect their emotions and behaviors to become more resilient: “Victim-thinking does not promote happiness. Write about yourself as a survivor rather than a victim.”

She said people came to earth to learn, and it isn’t easy, but the Lord will help. 

In Morgan’s conclusion to his Tuesday lecture, he told the class:

  • Trials can bring us strength. 
  • Emotional resilience makes us stronger.
  • Disruption can lead to positive growth.
  • Understanding eternal purpose and identity can strengthen us.

“When adversity comes you say, bring it on,” he said. “Not only am I going to handle this, but I’m going to be better than I was before.”

The Church has resources available for emotional preparedness, resilience and wellness; depression and anxiety, and more mental health topics. Those can be found at MentalHealth.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

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