Building Mental Resilience By Overcoming Personal Challenges

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Resilience means adapting to difficult challenges, circumstances, or situations and being able to bounce back from them. Many people think that resilience is something people are born with, and while genetics may play a part in it, there are many factors that can contribute to how resilient someone is. Keep reading to learn more about how the personal challenges you’ve overcome in the past can help you gain the mental resilience to thrive in the future.

Building resilience can be a challenge in itself

What resilience is and what it isn't

To build resilience, it can be helpful to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Resilient people face the same challenges as everyone else but can adapt to the stress, bounce back from difficult experiences, and use them as a source of personal growth. 

Mental, or psychological, resilience differs from other types of resilience. Mental resilience refers to one’s capacity to be flexible and stay calm in a crisis, physical resilience is the body’s ability to recover from physical demands, like injury or illness, community resilience refers to a group’s someone’s capacity to prepare, withstand, and recover from traumatizing events and changing conditions, like those caused by natural disasters or terrorist attacks. While all types of resilience can be important, we will primarily focus on mental resilience in this article. 

There’s often an assumption that resilient people effortlessly manage the daily challenges they face, but everyone can experience distress or emotional pain when exposed to trauma or life-changing events. Being resilient does not mean you don’t feel stressed or emotional when faced with serious challenges. Rather, resilience is all about how people respond to these situations and comes from a combination of actions, thoughts, and behaviors that anyone can learn. 

Building resilience could be compared to building muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes, but you must work at it with intention. Anyone can learn resilience, but it often requires quite a bit of time and effort, as well as consistency. 

How overcoming personal challenges can help build mental resilience

If building resilience is like building muscle, then every time we use resilience, it gets a little stronger. Every challenge we face isn’t life-changing, but even learning how to cope with daily stressors can equip us with more inner strength for when life gets especially tough. 

Building resilience is a little like a feedback loop. You face life’s challenges, which helps you learn resilience, which enables you to face life’s challenges, and so on. Each time, you learn a little more and get a little better, so you’re more prepared for the next time. 

It can be hard to focus on anything but the negative during a difficult time, but building resilience can help you find the positives and learn important things about yourself. Resilience can also help you stay focused and productive, strengthen your relationships, and build your self-esteem. Through this process, you can learn to be flexible, manage your emotions when you’re pushed past your comfort zone, and know that you can find a solution to your problem regardless of what you’re faced with. All of these things can allow you to become more and more resilient.


How to build resilience

Here are a few tips to help you start to build resilience. 

  • Accept the situation: Some people may react to stressful situations by being in denial or unable to admit what is happening, but it can be hard to move forward when you are unwilling to accept the truth. Accepting that change is inevitable and that there are some things you can’t control might sound scary, but it frees you to focus on what you can control, which is an essential part of resilience. 
  • Focus on self-care: Self-care can help Self-care can help manage stress and maintain positive mental health, which can boost mental and emotional resilience. Since coping with life’s challenges can be physically and emotionally draining, taking the time to care for your mind and body can be important. Some examples of self-care include exercising regularly, eating healthy, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, meditating, journaling, and having fun doing activities you enjoy.
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms: Many people have coping mechanisms they rely on to handle stress. Some coping mechanisms, like exercising, meditation, taking a warm bubble bath, or breathing exercises, can be beneficial for working through tough times. However, unhealthy coping strategies can do more harm than good. If you’re tempted to turn to substances or unhealthy drugs, alcohol, or self-harm, or if you have another mental health condition, it can be vital to seek the help of a qualified professional right away.
  • Take it one step at a time: Persistence can be an essential aspect of resilience. Resilient individuals continually ride out the challenges they face, even when they get tough. To make things more manageable, try breaking down your problems into smaller steps. Sit down and make a list if that would help. When you cross one item off your list, celebrate it! Every success matters when you’re trying to overcome a challenge, and inching closer and closer to your goal can help you stay hopeful. When you get discouraged, remember the small steps you’ve already accomplished to remind yourself of how far you’ve come.
  • Get help: Another misconception people might have about resilient people is that they don’t need help weathering trying times. However, the opposite is true; having a strong support system can make you more resilient. Connecting with friends and family when you’re going through a challenging time can help you feel less alone, and you can get strength from the people you lean on.

When facing tough times, retreating into your own little world may be tempting. You may feel you don’t want to burden people or can handle it alone. Remember, though, that the friends and family who love you won’t consider you a burden, and talking to someone who can offer you love and support can give you the strength you need to keep going. Joining a support group of people in a similar situation can also be beneficial, as well as speaking with a professional, such as a therapist.

Consider online therapy

If you’re facing a particularly challenging time or are worried about other mental health conditions, it could be helpful to seek the support of a therapist. Working alongside a licensed provider, you can develop your resilience by identifying unhealthy coping mechanisms and learning new coping skills to meet your own personal challenges. 

Making time for therapy can be difficult if you already have a demanding schedule, but online options like BetterHelp may allow you to get the support you need. With online therapy, you can get matched with an available therapist within 48 hours and start speaking to them through video chats, phone calls, or the in-app messaging feature. Taking control of your therapeutic experience may help you feel more comfortable throughout the entire process, which could contribute to even greater treatment outcomes.

Building resilience can be a challenge in itself

The efficacy of online therapy

In addition to being accessible and convenient, online therapy is also effective. In a randomized controlled trial aimed at college students, researchers assessed whether an online positive-psychology-based intervention could improve resilience. Results of this study showed that all 36 participants demonstrated significant improvements in resilience and associated outcomes. Users also reported satisfaction with the intervention and reported that they found it simple to access and use


Building mental resilience is like building any habit; the more you work at it, the easier it can get. Although some people seem to be naturally resilient, it’s a skill anyone can gain with time, effort, intentionality, and persistence. Overcoming the challenges in your life can remind you of your inner strength and motivate you to press on. If you feel you lack resilience, you can try using the strategies above to build your coping skills and overcome various obstacles with more ease. Sometimes, you may need additional support, which you can get by connecting with a therapist online. Talking to a therapist through a platform like BetterHelp can help you with resilience training by focusing on your coping skills, emotional regulation, and mental health. Additionally, you can receive extra encouragement and advice right from your phone as challenges arise throughout the day.

Cultivate emotional resilience with a professional
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