Building Resilience

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We hear lots of talk about the word resilience, but what does it actually mean to have resilience or be resilient?  And why is it that some days you feel more resilient than others?

Resilience is our ability to recover quickly from illness, change, misfortune or anything that brings us down. It’s our ability to deal with fear, disappointment or when things don’t turn out, as we would like them to. It is not necessarily the physical recovery but the mental recovery eg our cognitive or thought patterns rebounding back to their normal state. Much of building resilience sits in the field of positive psychology.

The other definition of resilience is the property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched or compressed: elasticity.  Ironically sometimes that is how we as individuals can feel; out of shape or stretched to our limit or compressed to our former selves after being through stressful experiences or when we are not feeling very resilient.

How do you know if you need to build your resilience?

Either you will be aware that a large event has impacted you or perhaps you feel you are not handling things as well as you used to. Your self-esteem or confidence may feel lower and maybe you are not responding to challenges with the same positivity you used to. Disappointment at not getting a much sought after promotion or working every day with a very difficult boss are two examples of where our emotional resilience can be tested.

The positive thing is that emotional resilience can be built with some practice. So pick some of our resilience tips and start practicing

What if it’s not working?

Please also be aware that if your resilience is not bouncing back to its normal state after a period of time that feels reasonable to you, you may need to seek further professional assistance.  Sometimes life’s events can lead us into periods of flatness or depression at which times we may need further professional help from a psychologist or counselor.



It is helpful to make an honest assessment of where you think your resilience level is.  This allows some transparency about how much work you need to do to build up your well of resilience.  This can be done on a Likert Scale as seen below, which you can draw visually in your journal.  With one being the lowest and ten being the highest, mark where you currently are. It is also helpful to mark where you think you are normally, so you are not aiming to return to something that is unrealistic.  This exercise can be completed sporadically to gauge your progress.

1 ————————–(Me)————5————————————–10

very low level of resilience                      medium                        high level of resilience


Get into the regular habit of writing in a journal. This may be 10-15 minutes a day when you are calm and have time to focus.  A journal enables you to reflect upon what has occurred in your day and monitor your emotions, thoughts, feelings and behaviours.  You can write notes on how you handled situations, what events occurred that triggered different reactions in you, or goals you aspire to complete.  Writing a journal assists people in making meaning of things and increases self-knowledge.  It allows you to access your inner self and tap into intuition and can be used to access creativity and develop self-awareness.

Use it to analyse different times when you are feeling more or less resilient and notice any patterns.  Jot down what occurs for you on days that you feel better than others.


In the past if you have successfully built your resilience back after a disappointment or tough event, reflect if you can, about what worked for you then.  It may have been the passage of time or perhaps you threw yourself into a new project or charity event or pursued a regular pattern of exercise. If something worked for you previously, then try it again.


If possible, nurture a positive view or look for any positives about the situation in which you find yourself. You can’t change the event that occurred but you can try and change how you respond to it.  Look at the big picture and try and put the event into perspective.   Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the ability to analyse our thought patterns and shift negative thoughts into positive ones.  Both negative and positive thoughts can have a big impact on our behaviour, emotions (feelings) and physiological response (how the body responds eg fight or flight, nervousness or blushing).  Being able to think yourself into a positive frame of mind will enable you to respond much better to the day’s challenges.  One tool for doing this is using your journal to write down what you appreciate or show gratitude for each day.  This can be as simple as taking 5 minutes before bed to jot down two things in each category.  This will start to focus the mind on more of the positives about your life as opposed to what is wrong or could be improved!


Maintaining good relationships with close family members, friends or others is an important tool in building resilience.   Accepting help, support and being able to talk and be listened to strengthens resilience. Sometimes a good night out with friends and a laugh can be just what we need to lift the spirit. It is also helpful to discover that other people can go through the same challenges and that we are not islands.  Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organsiations or other local groups provides social support and can help with building resilience.  Assisting others in their time of need eg donating time to a charity can also benefit the helper. This shifts the focus away from being inward and about the self, to being outward looking and focused on helping others. It also enables us to compare our situation to those that are worse off.

6 ACT – Acceptance and commitment therapy

An approach which you can explore further is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  It is a mindfulness technique, which has a goal to create a rich and meaningful life while accepting that pain and suffering generally accompanies this.   Elements of mindfulness are about living in the present moment; being totally engaged in what you are doing and letting your feelings and thoughts come and go without trying to control them.*

More information can be found at


Develop some realistic goals and make sure you do something every day even if it seems like a small accomplishment.  This focus allows you to move forward and not be stuck in the present or past. Just building up this momentum can help build resilience and self esteem. If a goal seems too large or insurmountable, break it in to smaller goals and ask yourself “What is the one thing I can do today which will help me move in the direction I want to go?”


People often learn something about themselves and may find they have grown in some respect as a result of great challenges or potential losses.  Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships; a greater sense of personal strength even while feeling vulnerable; an increase sense of self worth; a more developed spirituality and a heightened appreciation for life.


An optimistic outlook enables you to expect and aim for good things to happen in your life.  Try visualizing and working towards the positive things you would like in life rather than focusing on the negative things that you fear.


Taking care of our self is such an important aspect of our lives and yet it is often the thing that is most neglected!  Pay attention to your needs and feelings and engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.  Being aware of what you need to be at your best, whether it is exercise, enough sleep, mediation, time out to read, being in nature etc helps you to be at your most resilient and able to deal with challenges.

Exercise – Find one or several exercise regimes that you enjoy doing and do them regularly, at least three times a week.  Cardio exercise that raises your heart rate helps to increase the body’s endorphin levels which makes you feel much more positive.  Exercising regularly also helps to raise your energy, decrease stress levels and increase your ability to mentally focus.  A run in the morning on the beach, among other things can put you in a great mood for the rest of the day!

Breath – Be aware of your breathing.  Shallow breathing indicates stress and anxiety, mid level breathing indicates a calm demeanor, deep breathing de-stresses the body.  At least once an hour take the time to breathe deeply and slowly.  Yawn and stretch (clinically known as pandiculation) when you can, it cools the brain, relaxes the body, slows the heart rate and improves circulation and creativity.

Meditate – Make time for your mind to have a break from thinking.  You could learn to meditate by attending a course or buy some mediation cd’s and find a quiet half an hour where you will not be disturbed.  Some people like being out in nature by the beach or in the bush and find that 10 minutes of quietly sitting and breathing deeply while being focused on their surroundings can be meditative.  For those busy minds, which struggle to be still sometimes a repetitive exercise such as swimming, yoga or running can be a chance for the mind to switch off.

Have Fun – Life can become serious when you are a ‘grown-up’.  You only have to watch children have fun and laugh so freely to realize how wonderful and liberating it is to have a good laugh. Find and do the things you are passionate about.  Give yourself permission to be silly; do something a little crazy or fun and find more of the things in life that make you laugh.  Having a sense of humour and being able to laugh at yourself and life’s difficulties is beneficial. Lets Laugh offers tools to increase laugher.  Link below.

Celebrate – the good things in life.  Celebrate your achievements, family, friends and good times. Acknowledge those times in your life where you may be on a holiday or laughing at a B-Q and thinking to yourself “life doesn’t get much better than this”.