How to build resilience

 William E Henley exclaims in his poem “Invictus” (unvanquished): “Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed.”

Everyone has to go through difficult times in life. At some stage we will all experience setbacks, disappointments, losses. Why do some of us just bounce back and some of us are severely affected and take a long time to recover?

Contrary to common belief, the impact that an event is having on us is not necessarily determined by the severity of the issue. There are survivors of severe childhood abuse and neglect, who go on to live successful and fulfilling lives. And then there are those who have been loved and nurtured as a child but struggle for years to overcome a relationship breakup.

Resilience is the ability to overcome difficulties and bounce back to a healthy place, to feel even stronger because new skills are learned in this experience. Some feel damaged after a setback. They believe that they are weakened by the event and that they have no energy or fight left in them should another setback occur. This fear can then cause people to use unhelpful avoidance behaviours, which can paralyse them and consequently they miss out on life experiences that can be fulfilling or uplifting. For example, after a relationship breakup, a person may decide never to trust another partner and avoid being in a relationship or display overly jealous behaviour, which chases away new partners. Others feel that the fact they have survived a tough experience proves their strength – or teaches them new survival skills, making them feel even more prepared to take on a new challenge. They follow the well-known proverb “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.

So what can you do to build your resilience? Interestingly, a lot of research has been done into the subject matter of what makes a person resilient or happy.

Researchers of happiness name several areas that we can address:

  • Learn to be fully present in the here and now. Use Mindfulness techniques in order to experience physical pleasures much more intensely and maximise the amount of energy that we can store as a result. We can learn to use as many senses as possible. So, for example, before simply eating a piece of chocolate, look at it, smell it, take a little nibble, then smell it again before nibbling a bit more and so on. An excellent guide to Mindfulness can be found here:
  • Find out what your individual talents and strengths are and find activities that keep you so engrossed that you simply forget about the passing of time. If your work does not provide this then why not discover a hobby, such as gardening, learning an instrument or take cooking classes. If you are more adventurous then why not go kayaking, skydiving, learn KravMaga or dance Salsa?
  • Do things that are meaningful. Again, if your job does not provide this, then why not volunteer? Websites such as are an excellent place to start.
  • Socialise. If you don’t have a group of friends or family, why not take a look at This is a website in which people in your area publish activities they would like to share with others, for example hill walking, book club meetings, chats in a cafe, cinema or theatre visits. This is not a dating website and it is free.
  • We feel more resilient when we believe that we can face any adversity. For this it helps if we look after our physical strength as much as possible. It is not necessary to join the gym or do anything spectacular. Just build in exercise into your daily life. Walk to work, leave the bus at an earlier stop and walk the rest, listen to music and dance.
  • We also tend to have more energy and feel stronger when we eat healthily. Diets that are mainly plant based tend to have the best effect. Meat, alcohol, sweets are all allowed but in moderation. When using mindfulness techniques during mealtimes, we automatically consume less. This page gives excellent advice on healthy eating:
  • Try to achieve a healthy work life balance. Are you taking on too much? Have you considered using a counsellor, life coach or hypnotherapist to help you be more confident (and say no to managers and colleagues when they try to offload yet more work onto you ...), manage your time better and build stress management techniques? How about using a cleaner a few days a week in order to increase leisure time after work?
  • So why not take charge and follow the words of Henley: “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Diana Armstrong

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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