What is resilience?

A young person is surfing on a book against an orange background, representing the journey of building resilience

Hi! I’m Jemma. In addition to volunteering with The Mix I work as a Mental Health Support worker for the NHS. I love to travel and learn about different cultures (especially the food!), spend time with friends and family and get out into nature. 

Have you ever found yourself struck by the resilience of those around you? Despite seeing people who have had their confidence and self-esteem battered, been burdened with some type of stigma from society, or lost their independence, there is still something which pushes them towards making things better.

To be able to walk out of the door without the anxiety of what others will think, to be responsible in a job or voluntary role, to be a good friend or parent or simply to be kinder to themselves. But where does this resilience come from, and how can we use it?

Understanding resilience

So, what is resilience? Defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, resilience is said to include:

  • Problem solving abilities
  • The capacity to manage our own behaviour in response to feelings or events
  • An ability to adapt to stress
  • Cognitive brain skills we use to carry out the most simple to complex tasks

An important part of the development of these characteristics is through our earliest relationships with parents or caregivers. A parenting style which includes setting limits, whilst also being warm, supportive and nurturing, is understood to put people in a prime position to develop these qualities. This creates a kind of environment where someone can become a self-reliant, self-controlled and independent person.

Supportive environments such as school, sports teams or after-school clubs also promote resilience. This is because they provide a safe space to develop and practice the following:

  • Positive self-perceptions
  • Talents valued by yourself and by society
  • Problem-solving skills
  • A positive outlook on life
  • Emotional self-regulation

Resilience & needs

You might find yourself reading this and thinking you don’t have the characteristics of resilience, or have not grown up in the type of environment where these are developed. The most important thing is not to worry! I’m sure we can all think of someone in our lives who has shown resilience, when according to the information above, should have none.

Resilience can also be looked at through a lens of needs and drive. This would mean that resilience, in part, is something we are born with. Most of us will be able to relate to a desire to be happy, content, safe and accepted.

One theory, known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, tells us that when we are lacking something, from basics such as food, to more complex needs such as friendship and self esteem, we are driven towards obtaining these.

This drive is arguably powered, in part, by resilience. Time and time again we face our new reality, assess which of our needs have been lost, and employ resilience as we work to achieve our needs. One example could be job hunting, we may be unsuccessful multiple times at the interview stage, but we keep trying in order to regain safety and stability.

Barriers to resilience

There may come a time in your life where you feel you have no resilience, and that’s ok. Sometimes things will happen that are out of our control and we find that, for whatever reason, resilience is unavailable to us. We could be facing barriers such as:

  • Overexposure to stress
  • Physical or mental health conditions
  • Little or no emotional/practical support
  • Being a single parent
  • Discrimination or bullying

Many barriers are out of our control and we should not bear the responsibility of changing them, instead, we can look for subtle ways to empower ourselves, finding strength where we thought there was none.

How to build resilience

Using our strengths

By discovering and recognising our strengths we are able to intentionally promote our resilience. Studies show that people who use their strengths tend to be happier, more confident and feel less stressed. If you’re not sure what your strengths are, you could start by speaking to those close to you, thinking about the things you enjoy, or identify three situations where you have been successful.

Self care

If you want to know how to build resilience, prioritising self care, should be high on your list. Using self care we can help our mind and body to prepare itself for situations where we may need to be resilient. Self care can include things like:

  • Getting outside for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation
  • Developing and maintaining good sleep habits
  • Reaching out for support or recognising when you need alone time

As long as you are doing something that will work towards improving your mental wellbeing, you can be sure you are practising self care.

Practising optimism

Studies show that people who are naturally more resilient interpret setbacks or trauma in a way that is temporary, local and changeable. This doesn’t mean ignoring difficult situations, but approaching them in a more productive way.

One way you can start to build resilience to setbacks is by challenging your thinking. If you find yourself thinking negatively about a situation, try spinning this on its head and picking out something positive, for example, if a friend cancels plans, think about what opportunities this opens up for you; maybe you can use this time to practice self care. This process is known as positive reframing.

If these work for you, that’s great, but it’s also important to stress that resilience is not something you “should” have, if you don’t feel up to challenging yourself today, or any day, our team is always here to offer free and confidential support.

Next Steps


Updated on 24-Aug-2022

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