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  • Writer's pictureDena Lampert

How to Build Resilience

Reflecting on everything that’s happened since the end of 2019, there’s no doubt that we live in an ever-changing, never-constant world full of uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. VUCA, an acronym first coined in the army, is now widely applied to society to describe our ever-changing world. It describes a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and that’s certainly how the world has felt since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while our world might be changing so quickly, sometimes we find it difficult to adapt at the same speed, often feeling overwhelmed, left behind, confused, and excluded. All of us at some point in our lives will struggle with adversities, but learning healthy ways to move through difficult times—a collection of skills that researchers call resilience—can help us to manage better and leave us stronger and better equipped to face any challenges in the future.

What is resilience?


Resilience is typically defined as the capacity to recover from difficult life events. Psychologists define resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”

When we are resilient we are able to recover from difficult experiences in a way that positively impacts how we cope with difficult situations in the future. Developing true resiliency can involve profound personal growth.

Why some people are more resilient than others


An individual’s resilience is dictated by a combination of genetics, personal history, and environment. Everyone is different, and while one person might develop symptoms of depression or anxiety following a traumatic event, another person might not report any symptoms at all.

According to nearly every study of resilience in the last 50 years, the most significant aspect of an individual's life that affects their resilience is the quality of our close personal relationships, especially with parents and primary caregivers. And while this isn’t something that we can change, there are things we can do to increase our resilience for the future.

Recent research has found that the tools most common to resilient people are optimism, a moral compass, religious or spiritual beliefs, cognitive and emotional flexibility, and social connectedness.

So what can we do to build resilience long-term?

How to build resilience


Build and maintain a community

Prioritizing relationships with those who are supportive and important to you is pivotal to staying resilient. Having people you can rely on and trust to share your feelings with, can support you in feeling heard, understood, and not alone. And if you don’t have those people in your life, make some time to think about how you can go about finding them. Focus on finding people who bring you joy, and give you energy, encouragement, and support. Try joining a book club, or a gym, or go to an event about something you’re passionate about.


Take care of yourself

Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally can never be overstated. Eating good food, getting enough sleep, and staying active all play a key role in reducing the toll of negative emotions. Tools such as mindfulness and meditation can also help you build connections and restore hope, which can prime you to deal with situations that require resilience.


In addition, avoiding unhealthy outlets for emotions such as alcohol or drugs is crucial. While these might make you feel better temporarily, they will always do you harm in the long term. Working to replace these negative outlets with more positive ones is an important step in building your resilience.


Accept the situation

One of the key determinants of resiliency is the ability to accept the situation for what it is without fighting it. It’s important to accept that change is a part of life. Accepting situations that can’t be changed will help you focus on circumstances that you can change.


“People who can accept the situation without having to master it often find it easier to be spontaneous and flexible about changing long-standing patterns.” - Pauline Boss


Set and move towards your goals

Develop some SMART goals (check out our blog post about setting SMART goals) and do something regularly to work towards them. Being able to think in a goal-oriented way when faced with a difficult situation will help build your resilience. If you’ve been faced with the death of a loved one, try thinking about what small steps you can take towards moving forward, like maybe joining a grief support group in your area.


Let go of negative thoughts

How you think about situations can significantly impact the way you cope and respond to them. Try to recognize when you start to slip into negative thought patterns and notice when you are experiencing cognitive distortions (these could include catastrophizing, mind reading, black or white thinking, and predicting the future). By recognizing these negative thought patterns, you’re much better able to change them. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.


Seek support

Building resilience on your own can be difficult, and seeking support is often a necessary step in getting you to where you want to be and prepared for any difficulties the future may bring.


If you recognize that you might be in need of some support for building resilience, we recommend reaching out to a qualified CBT therapist. By working with a CBT therapist, you will be supported through the process of understanding your situation, accepting it, and building resilience to deal with future difficulties.


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