Emotional resilience - bouncing back

I experienced a difficult couple of weeks or so with several serious setbacks. These included a sudden and painful medical problem followed by hospitalisation. Then getting knocked off my bike, and finally, someone hitting my car. These have all served to 'de-rail' me in one way or another. Not to mention a lot of time in trying to get things sorted out! It got me thinking about the subject of emotional resilience...


I remember the football manager Ian Dowie talking about 'bouncebackability', describing how his team (Crystal Palace) had gone from possible relegation to play-off winners in 2003-2004. It's a good word for describing that situation where you raise yourself to go again.

I have another example too. I remember from my History lessons at school the legend of Robert the Bruce hiding out in a cave in 1306 watching a spider spinning a web on the wall. Time after time it would fall, only to climb slowly back up and try until it succeeded. A lesson was learned for the King of Scotland. Filled with hope and courage he left the cave and gathered his forces and the rest is history as they say.

"The only thing that is constant is change" is a famous quote attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. Life is constantly changing and evolving. From time to time things just stop existing. Losing a job, the end of a relationship or moving to a new area are all big changes. Some challenges do allow the opportunity to come back stronger than ever though.

Building mental toughness is fundamental to living your best life. It's similar to going to the gym to build muscle or tone up. We have to develop our mental health by using the right tools and techniques. Fighting negative thoughts and doubts with more optimistic ones.

The elements that go towards building mental toughness are listed below. I find it easier to remember them as the four C's.

The four C's

1. Control

To what extent do you have control in your life? Or put another way your self-esteem and purpose. How comfortable are you in your own skin? Being in touch with your emotions and knowing who you are.

2. Confidence

Believing in yourself. Knowing you are capable and able to do things you need to do. You are able to deal with setbacks seeing them as a challenge.

3. Challenge

Striving to do your best. Sees change as a positive thing rather than a negative. Being the best person you can be without fear of failure.

4. Commitment

Creating healthy routines and good habits. Think about setting goals, and targets that are achievable. It is also about clear focus in life, knowing that you have the control to make meaningful changes and deal with any setbacks.

How to build emotional resilience

To finish off it might be helpful to look at how to build it. I've come up with a list of around 14. Here I will go through some of my favourites. Self-care and sleep are vital, along with diet and exercise. Less obvious things may include the following.


Finding good support networks, family friends and community. Those you can rely on to listen to you when needed. Being there for others. Self-worth can be gained by being the person who reaches out to others. It is usually very much appreciated too.

Something new or different

Maybe a new skill, a course, a hobby. Something to focus on, and meet new people. It doesn't have to be in a group setting, it can be an individual thing.

Crisis, what crisis?

You can't change the situation, but you can control the reaction. Somebody once told me that everything is 'temporary'. Try to look beyond the temporary when things are difficult. Be aware of how you deal with such situations.

Gentle exposure

Nothing rude... This is just about gently approaching something that causes anxiety but in a safe and controlled way. Social anxiety might be an example; I know I find it uncomfortable at times. Start with a small group where you feel comfortable, gradually moving on to bigger things. It is a technique used a lot in CBT, particularly with phobias.

There is hope

A negative outlook is less likely to end with a positive result. An optimistic approach and positive attitude can work. I often talk about visualisation as a technique Picture it in your head, going just as you would want it to. Something simple like a trip to the shop maybe, it works for all occasions.

Do something

Avoidance generally leads to negativity or thoughts of failure. Be more decisive and give things a try, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing you did your best. It is better than doing nothing at all. I'm tempted to say the old classic 'If you don't buy a ticket you can't win a raffle.....

What a goal!

Setting a challenge or a target can be very fulfilling. It doesn't have to be a large one, but can generate a sense of purpose. A good example is the couch to 5k. This starts slowly and safely and eventually builds to a goal of running 5k. It could be anything though, health, finances, career, spirituality, community, charity.

Emotional resilience is a personal thing. It's what works for you. Whether that includes, mindfulness, meditation, exercise, journaling or creative arts - it really doesn't matter. Stay true to your values and focus on the things you can control.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Northampton, Northamptonshire, NN3
Written by Peter Arthur, (Dip.Couns, Reg. MBACP)
Northampton, Northamptonshire, NN3

I am a Person Centred Counsellor based in Northamptonshire. I work Online and also specialise in 'Walk and Talk' Therapy.
I have been in Private Practice for two years, after previously working as Lead Counsellor for a local Charity.

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