Building resilience: 6 ways to be a more resilient person

Mental Health

by Kenleigh McMinn, PhD

Feb 24, 2022

How do you react when something goes wrong? Maybe it’s a small disappointment like being passed up for a promotion. Maybe it’s something that hits deeper like a failed relationship or sudden health diagnosis. Or maybe it’s the often-overwhelming chaos of the world around us.

What makes the difference in life’s trying moments is resilience. Let’s explore the topic of resilience, what it is and how to cultivate it in your own life.

How resilient are you?

Resilience is the ability to adapt to challenges and “bounce back” from difficult experiences. A person with lower resilience is more likely to feel overwhelmed, dwell on problems and use unhealthy coping strategies. Low resilience is also correlated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other mental health conditions. 

On the other hand, someone with high resilience is able to adapt and cope in ways that help them move forward in life rather than feeling stuck or derailed. It’s not that resilient people don’t face challenges or stressful situations, or that they never feel distressed—they just know how to cope in a healthy way and move forward.

Resilience is an important skill for everyone to develop because it helps us stay mentally and emotionally healthy in the face of adversity, and no one is immune to adversity.

Resilience is especially important right now with so many global, chronic sources of stress. I like to think about coping with these chronic stressors like a marathon rather than a sprint. Resilience helps us build “emotional endurance” to make it through.

How to build resilience

So, how can we build resilience and make sure we’re better equipped to handle challenges in life? Research has shown that everyone starts out with a different level of resilience based on genetics and upbringing, but everyone is capable of becoming more resilient.

1. Make time for self-care

Remember, everyone’s timelines and paths for “bouncing back” are different. It’s important not to compare where you are in life or how you’re feeling to how others are doing.

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “The grass is greener on the other side,” but a truer statement is, “The grass is greener where you water it.” This means making time to care for yourself in whatever way is most helpful and feasible to you.

Start small—take 30 seconds at the end of every day and list three things that you are grateful for or three things that went well in your day. 

2. Focus on what you can control

Focus on the parts of life you do have control over. So much of what is happening is overwhelming because we feel helpless to do anything about. Try shifting your attention to what you can do right here, right now: take a walk, eat a tasty meal, make plans with a friend, tidy up an area in your home or simply take a few deep breaths.

We unfortunately don’t have a crystal ball to tell us exactly when life will get back to feeling “normal,” but we can take steps every day to introduce that sense of normalcy for ourselves.

3. Take care of your body

A simple place to start is making sure your basic physical needs are being met in a healthy way, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in physical activity and eating a balanced diet. These habits help not only our physical health, but also are shown to reduce stress and improve resilience.

4. Invest in your relationships

Supportive social relationships can also help you build resilience and keep you grounded. Spending time with friends and family helps us relax and remember to laugh. During difficult moments, those people can provide you with empathy and acceptance, and help remind you of the positive things in your life.

5. Do things you enjoy

Engage in activities that are both meaningful and enjoyable for you. What do you like to do for fun? When you have a free Saturday, what are you excited to do? Yoga, painting, hiking, playing an instrument, doing a puzzle, playing with the dogs or grandkids—whatever it is for you, spend a few minutes every day doing that.

6. Try to stay focused on the positives in life

This is easier said than done, but it’s best not to dwell on the problems, stressors or challenges that are bringing you down. Resilience doesn’t mean you ignore or forget about those problems, but it does mean that you’re able to focus more on the positives than the negatives. That’s the key to being able to move forward with confidence and hope. When your thoughts start to turn toward the negative, start listing off the positives and write them down, so you can come back to your list later.

Resilience takes time to build, so remember to have compassion for yourself. Life can be challenging and it’s okay to struggle—we all do sometimes. If you begin to feel overwhelmed or find that you’re having trouble coping with stress, consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional for help building resilience.

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About the Author

Kenleigh McMinn, PhD, is a psychologist on staff at Baylor University Medical Center through Baylor Scott & White HealthTexas Provider Network. She specializes in health psychology with expertise in women’s health and trauma. Get to know Dr. McMinn today.

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