Resilience: What is it and how can I build it?

Resilience is defined as ‘the capacity to recover from difficulties.’ Effectively, this means that resilience is our ability to bounce back from something unpleasant, this could be anything from a bereavement, trauma, job loss, injury or illness, breakup, financial struggle or rejection. 


The two components of resilience are adversity and positive adaptation, without adversity there is nothing to ‘bounce back’ from therefore no challenge and no opportunity to adapt and learn from the experience.  

You might be reading this whilst not feeling very resilient and it is important to note that just because you are in the middle of something difficult and might be struggling to cope, this does not mean that you are not resilient. You might not have found a coping skill that works for you, you need to be listened to and acknowledged, need access to social support or maybe you need to grieve a loss. 

Slowly over time, when you feel ready to you can build up resilience. It is not about going through something difficult and then immediately bouncing back the next day, it is about going through a difficult time allowing yourself to grieve, making sense of your experience and then when you are ready making small changes to help you to move forward.  

Why is resilience important?

Resilience is needed so that we can survive hardship and learn from it. Also, the more resilient we are the less likely we are to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. So, when we are faced with hardship, which we will be at some point in our lives, being resilient can help us to cope and overcome difficult situations in a healthy way.   

We also need resilience so that we can learn from adversity and find meaning. We come out the other side wiser, stronger, more adaptable and often empowered. It can help us strengthen relationships, identify harmful ones, and help build self-esteem. 

Our resilience can be used in future situations when we are met with difficulty. For example, resilient people understand ‘I got through that difficult time X years ago; I can get through this now’ Therefore, resilience is important so that we can use what we learnt in the past when faced with adversity in the future. 

How can I start to build resilience?

As previously mentioned, resilience can be built over time. There are many ways to build resilience, I have described six ways: 

1. Through therapy

 Resilience can be built with the help of a counsellor or psychotherapist. The process of therapy can support you to raise your self-worth and self-esteem so that you feel empowered to face life’s challenges. Speaking about your experiences can help us to move forward. Also, receiving empathy and understanding from a counsellor when going through a difficult time can help us to understand that we are not alone in our struggle and knowing this can help to build resilience.  

2. Building a strong social network

Spending time with people who make you feel happy, energised, empowered, nourished, and valued can help to build resilience. You might not feel like you have this right now and that is ok. To tie this in with the first point, therapy can help you to improve your relationships so that over time you can create a social network of people who can support you through difficult times and vice versa.

3. Finding a sense of purpose in life

Finding meaning in life’s challenges can give you a reason to keep going. This could be anything from caring for others, pets, or gardening. It could also be that you experience a sense of purpose in your work life. You could be creative and want to produce something out of adversity such as writing, poetry or painting. Maybe you enjoy serving your community or volunteering for a charity, a fitness challenge… something that gets you out of bed on a morning can help you to build resilience. 

4. Take care of your own needs

This means that you care for yourself like you would care for another person and you treat your needs as if they are important to you. It is common during difficult times to ignore your needs by not eating healthy food or losing your appetite, sleep can be impacted or not getting enough exercise or fresh air. Neglecting our needs can have a detrimental impact on our ability to be resilient. 

5. Having a ‘toolbox’ to cope with change

 When faced with adversity, being resilient means that you can cope with whatever comes your way. Building a ‘toolbox’ of ways that you know will help you to cope in difficult times can be beneficial. The knowledge that you are armed with some healthy coping strategies to use when met with unexpected changes can help build resilience.  

6. Set goals for yourself 

Resilient people acknowledge how far they have come and then set goals for the future. These goals do not have to be big because when we are faced with a crisis even small tasks can feel difficult. Small achievable steps are ok when you feel ready and can make a big difference over time. 

As I mentioned at the start of this article you may be reading this whilst not feeling very resilient but that does not mean that you will not feel resilient in the future. Resilience is not the absence of difficult times but the ability to adapt, overcome, live with, and learn from struggle. This is not a quick process but small changes can make a difference over time. 

To conclude, I hope that this article explains what resilience is, why it is important and that resilience can be built over time. If you would like to find out more about how counselling can help you, please feel free to visit my profile and get in touch via the Counselling Directory. 

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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Durham DH1 & Newton Aycliffe DL5
Written by Megan Riley, MBACP (reg.), MSc CounsPsych
Durham DH1 & Newton Aycliffe DL5

I’m a person-centred counsellor working with adults online. I work to support people to cope with many issues such as trauma, loss, anxiety, depression, loneliness and low self-esteem. Please feel free to get in touch.

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