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A guide to resilience

PUBLISHED: 8 October 2019 | LAST UPDATED: 4 October 2023

What is resilience? In short, it’s the ability to cope when something goes wrong.

In life, we all go through ups and downs. When we experience those ‘downs’, being resilient can help us to bounce back.

We all have a level of resilience; it’s what we’ve used for years to help us adapt as the world around us has changed. From when our ancestors were using resilience as a basic survival instinct, to modern day stresses and strains, we’ve learnt how to react when things don’t go to plan.

Challenges nowadays, like being rejected for a job, going through a break-up or missing a train can leave us feeling spun out and sometimes, unable to cope. By picking ourselves up and finding ways to deal with difficult times, we’re building our resilience, which means that we get better and better at dealing with disaster when it strikes.

What does resilience look like?

We’re all resilient – some more than others and our level of resilience can even vary depending on the situation we’re in.

People who are highly resilient have just as many challenges as those who are less resilient, but are more able to adapt and flex to their surroundings. They’re likely to be able to stay calm when under pressure and have a positive ‘can do’ attitude towards life. They often spend less time worrying about failure and, as good problem solvers, will think rationally about what can be done to solve the issue rather than focusing on the problem itself. They’ll reach out when they need help and form strong relationships with those around them to build a support network.

As with physical objects, less resilient people may struggle when put under pressure because they aren’t able to move with or against the pressure. People who have low levels of resilience may be more likely to experience mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression - they’ll often feel deflated and hopeless when things go wrong, because they feel that they can’t make things right. They can become angry and unable to think rationally about a solution, which can contribute to, and even worsen the feelings of anxiety and depression.

Building your resilience doesn’t mean you won’t face difficulties anymore, it just means you’ll feel better equipped to deal with them when they do come up.

5 ways to be resilient

If you don’t think you’re a resilient person now, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever be one. Resilience is a skill that can be developed and improved with practice. There are a few ways that you can help yourself feel better prepared to manage stressful situations and solve problems when you’re next faced with them.

  1. Break it down
    Problems are a lot more manageable when they’re broken down into smaller pieces. Tackling one part at a time will help you to feel more able to work through the issues. You’ll start to feel more resilient as you’ll see the problem getting smaller and smaller, until it just isn’t a problem anymore.

  2. Focus on the positives
    It’s hard to feel positive when something goes wrong, but avoiding those negative feelings will help you to feel more optimistic about finding a solution. Take time in your day to focus on the positives by reflecting on three things that you’re grateful for in life. Include it in your routine, for example when you’re brushing your teeth or when you’re leaving the house in the morning. Sometimes, we just need to pause and take a moment to get some perspective.

  3. Build and use your support network
    It’s important that we have people around us that we can turn to when we need to talk or if we need some help. It can feel daunting when we feel up against it, but it’s much less scary when we have people around us to help us through it, whether that’s friends and family or our colleagues. A problem shared is a problem halved, after all!

  4. Look after yourself
    Self care goes a long way in helping us cope with life’s challenges. Making sure we get enough sleep, eating properly and getting enough exercise will immediately make us feel better. When we look after ourselves, we feel more in control and confident in our abilities – this will really help when you’re faced with difficulties.

  5. Know your limits
    We all have our limits, and we need to be able to say no or take a break when things get too much. If we take too much on we can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. It’s much better to know our limits to prevent ourselves from getting to that point. It’ll also mean that when unexpected challenges arise we’ll feel more able to process and find solutions because our stress levels are manageable. To help mange your stress and emotions, you can try techniques such as mindfulness

The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing.