How To Build Resilience And Why It’s Important

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Life is full of adversity and challenges in many forms, which is why investing in resilience training can help individuals develop the necessary skills and mindset to cope and bounce back. Even if you're a generally happy and optimistic person, you may sometimes face situations, such as job loss, that are difficult to handle. Emotional resilience, built through past experiences and inner strength, is a quality that can help you move through these difficult times in a healthy and beneficial way.

What is emotional resilience?

Since challenges and anxiety are a part of life, it makes sense that having the skills to deal with them is important for your wellbeing and daily routine. We can look at emotional resilience as having two parts. The first is being able to adapt and work through difficult situations, rather than letting negative thoughts overcome us and make us feel overwhelmed. The second is being able to use hard times as opportunities for growth—to recognize any value or lessons that can be gleaned from difficult circumstances and use them for our own self-improvement going forward. To put it more simply, resilience definition is the ability to get yourself through tough times, practice stress management, and even experience personal growth as a result.

Getty / courtneyk
You can become more emotionally resilient

Emotional resilience is not about avoiding emotional pain or maintaining a state of constant positive emotions. This concept allows room for difficult emotions in our lives. It's more about perspective: either let them stop you in your tracks or let them propel you forward in the end.

There are two key qualities that typically make up a person's sense of resilience. If you can build skills in these two areas, you're likely to find yourself with a high level of this helpful characteristic. The first is emotional control, which can be improved through relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation. By adequately noticing, identifying, and managing your emotions, you can move through tough experiences in a healthy way instead of letting feelings control you and your responses. The other is self-awareness and self-esteem. Research has found links between resilience and self-esteem: The higher your self-esteem, the more resilient you're likely to be, and vice versa. Self-esteem is all about how we perceive ourselves, our traits, and our abilities. So if you're going through a challenge, a sense of self-esteem can help you believe in your ability to get through it and remain hopeful for the future.

How to build resilience

While certain personality traits or innate characteristics may help someone be more naturally resilient, it’s usually a quality that anyone can improve in themselves.

Like most other forms of self-improvement and growth, it typically takes commitment and practice over time. Read on for a few different strategies you can try to improve your own emotional resilience.

Put your feelings into words

Finding a way to express your emotions can be an important part of moving past them so they don’t hold you back. One study found that putting emotions into words can decrease the response in the amygdala, a portion of the brain associated with shielding you from danger. Researchers likened this to “hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.” So when you’re feeling difficult emotions, simply naming them may help remove some of their power so they don’t overwhelm you. You might take up journaling as a way to do this, or even identifying your feelings out loud to yourself. The simple act of labeling and acknowledging each one can be a powerful step in moving forward from them.


Build a social support network

A wealth of research has linked strong social connections to mental and even physical health. Research points out that positive support from others can reduce stress by promoting the release of oxytocin, which can also increase activation in the amygdala. Social support can help us build and maintain emotional resilience.

In today’s digital world, it can seem daunting to try and build new social connections. It may take intentional work, but there are still plenty of ways to build in-person connections with others in your community. Signing up for a book club, sports league, art class, or volunteer association in your area are common ways to meet new people with similar interests. Getting involved with things you’re passionate about can plug you into networks of others who are like-minded and can lead to positive, supportive friendships.

It may also be interesting to note that even purely online connections can be beneficial to wellbeing—especially for those who have weaker in-person support networks. Finding people who care about you and will be there to listen to and support you when you’re going through a difficult time is important for emotional resilience and other aspects of health, so it’s generally worth the effort.

iStock/SDI Productions
You can become more emotionally resilient

Prioritize physical and mental health

Time and again, academic research has identified links between exercise and various elements of mental health and well-being. The story is the same with emotional resilience. Consider one study that looked at the emotional resilience of people in relation to how they were able to handle lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that “Exercise is strongly correlated to resilience, and during a pandemic such as COVID-19, it becomes a mechanism in which to moderate resilience.” In other words, not only did more resilient people tend to be more physically active, but some were also able to become more resilient through the practice of frequent exercise.

Finding a form of physical exercise that you enjoy is likely to help you be able to incorporate it into your routine. If you don’t enjoy visiting the gym, you might try swimming, yoga, dancing, taking walks around your neighborhood, or playing pick-up basketball at your local park instead. It’s worth the trial and error of finding a physical exercise routine that works for you since it can have so many positive effects on mental well-being—including on building resilience.

The guidance of a therapist can be a valuable tool for strengthening your mental health and increasing your levels of emotional resilience. They can help you learn emotional control through the practice of identifying and learning how to appropriately respond to your feelings. 

If you’re interested in increasing your emotional resilience so you can learn to adapt and progress through challenging situations, a mental health professional may be able to help. If you’d like to seek therapy online, a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp can match you with a therapist who is right for you. Since studies suggest that online therapy can offer similar benefits to in-person sessions, this is a viable option for many people. If you’d like to seek therapy in person, you can search for providers in your area. You can acquire tools for building emotional resilience through either format.


Emotional resilience can help equip you for the challenges life will inevitably bring. By focusing on your own needs and adopting a positive perspective, you can improve this characteristic in yourself. Engaging in activities like guided imagery or reflecting on positive things can enhance your resilience, allowing you to move through difficult situations in a more balanced, healthy way, while also becoming more self aware.

Seeking to improve your mental health?
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started