Resilience Definition And How To Increase It

By: Jessica Saxena

Updated July 15, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Dawn Brown

Life has a way of giving us challenges that may seem impossible to overcome. When we face such a challenge, it tends to go one of two ways-we conquer the challenge and move onward, or we find ourselves paralyzed and overwhelmed. Tackling these challenges head-on and growing stronger because of them is a clear sign of resilience. If you find yourself shrinking away from challenges, or you have difficulty "bouncing back" after a period of adversity, it's time to start thinking about ways to increase your resilience.

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What Is Resilience?

Resilience is essentially your ability to adapt when faced with adversity and significant amounts of stress and to return to your equilibrium. Everyone has resilience. It's just that some individuals are more resilient than others. Your resilience can be tested by any number of situations-trauma, tragedy, natural disaster, health issues, relationship issues, problems at work, problems at school, etc. If someone is resilient, it doesn't mean they don't face adversity; rather they are skilled at being able to adapt to the circumstances and continue moving forward.

The ability to adapt and move forward from adversity requires a unique combination of behaviors, thoughts, and actions, all of which can be learned. This means that even if you currently find yourself lacking resilience, with a little bit of effort to change your thinking and your behaviors, you can improve your ability to adapt and overcome the difficulties you face.

What You Need to Know about Resilience

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about resilience is that it can be learned. We all have the skills to be resilient in the face of adversity; it is simply a matter of knowing how to use these skills properly to quickly bounce back and move forward. The first step in increasing your own resilience is to understand what resilience is and what influences it.


A textbook definition of resilience is the ability to endure or bounce back quickly from adverse conditions. When you define resilience in this way, you can see how the definition works no matter who or what is receiving the damage or difficulty. This means that while inanimate objects can be resilient, so too can individuals. Resilience in individuals is typically multifaceted, with individuals showing physiological resilience, emotional resilience, and psychological resilience.

Resilience Theory

Resilience theory is a set of concepts related to the impact of challenging events on an individual and how well they adapt. Traumatic events will put an individual's mental health under significant stress, but while some break under the pressure, others come out even stronger. Understanding what determines whether an individual will break or overcome the adversity is the topic of much of the research focusing on resilience. So far, research has defined six significant predictors of resilience:

  1. Stressors
  2. External Environmental Context
  3. Person-Environment Interactional Processes
  4. Internal Self Characteristics
  5. Resilience Processes
  6. Positive Outcomes

Resilience: Process Or Event?

The consensus amongst scientists is that resilience is a process and not an event. While a single event can be traumatic and spur you to change your thoughts, behaviors, and actions, resilience is the process of making these changes. With this knowledge, it is understood that resilience is not an individual trait, but is something that can be learned or developed by any individual.

Does Resilience Change over Time?

Although certain factors are set early in your life or even before you're born, resilience does change over time. There are so many determinants that affect how resilient you are, some of which are bound to change as you move through life. Your genetic code won't change, but you can learn the behaviors and thoughts that can make you more resilient in the face of adversity.

Does Resilience Vary in Different Modes of Life?

Researchers are interested in whether there's a carryover of resilience in one aspect of life into other aspects. For example, does someone who shows resilience in close relationships also show resilience when faced with a difficult work situation? So far, the answer seems to be that while there may be a certain amount of carryover, an individual's resilience will likely vary based on the situation and the specific factors that surround it.

Resilience Is The Ability To Survive Traumatic Situations And Keep Going
Learn How To Deal With Trauma By Talking To A Therapist Today


What Determines Resiliency?

Scientists call the factors that determine how resilient you are "resilience determinants." Resilience determinants typically work together to increase your ability to adapt to difficult circumstances. The more factors in your favor, the easier it will be for you to regain equilibrium and rise above adversity.

Biological Factors

Some researchers have pointed out that certain genes and biological conditions may contribute to your ability to adapt. However, since resilience is a process, it stands to reason that these biological conditions are also in a state of change. Biological determinants can include age, gender, HIV status, heart disease, obesity, and others.

One study assessed people with PTSD before and after treatment to determine whether genetic changes happen during the process. While the study concluded that the way the genes are expressed could change and be passed on to future generations, there is still debate about whether that conclusion is accurate. It was a small study and only covered two generations rather than the four generations that would have been needed to prove the gene was passed on. Still, it's a subject that deserves more study.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are usually referred to as "physical determinants." Physical determinants can include:

  • Your natural environment, including plants and weather.
  • Your manufactured environment, including buildings and transportation.
  • Your housing and neighborhood.
  • Exposure to toxic substances.
  • Physical barriers that keep you from accessing your resources, such as accessibility issues for people with disabilities.
  • Aesthetic features like adequate lighting and pleasant places to rest.

Inner Factors

Everyone has their inner resources. High self-esteem and high self-confidence are positive factors adding to resilience. Perseverance and the determination to keep fighting to overcome the difficulties of the situation can have a profound effect on your ability to adapt to it. Being more concerned about the future than the past can get you through difficult times because it emphasizes the potential hope in the situation.

Close Relationship Factors

One of the most influential factors in determining resilience is the caregiver bond you had as a child. Your parents can provide a foundation of positivity and flexibility that can add to your resilience throughout your life. This one factor doesn't rule your ability to adapt, but it can increase your resilience just as other factors can.


Other close relationships can also help determine how well you adapt. These relationships can include your parents, your spouse, your children, and friends if you are very close to them. People you feel close to can lend their support and encourage you to keep going. They can offer suggestions for things you can do that is most appropriate for you and help you reframe the situation more positively.

Cultural Factors

Cultural factors can also have a bearing on your resiliency. Some of these factors include:

  • Being able to meet your daily needs with resources like living wages.
  • Social attitudes like discrimination.
  • Exposure to crime.
  • Community support.
  • Mass media input.
  • Helpful uses of technology.
  • Good schools.
  • Segregation.

What Does Resilience Mean for People with Mental Conditions? (h2)

More resilient people can minimize the effects of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. If a person with a mental illness can become more resilient, their conditions may improve. If you have a mental illness that was brought on by severe adversity, developing resilience may be a challenge, but it can reap many benefits. What's more, being more resilient may help prevent mental illness.

Ways to Increase Your Resilience

Research and clinical experience suggest that resilience can be learned. Psychologists use several different methods to build resilience and you can do something about it for yourself, too. Here are several ways to increase your resilience when faced with trying times.

Work on Your Self-Esteem

Having confidence in your own abilities can drastically amp up your resilience as it plays a major role in coping with stress. Find ways to build up your self-esteem such as using positive affirmations, practicing self-compassion, and eliminating self-criticism.

Discover Your Purpose

Living your life with a sense of purpose can give you the motivation to keep going, even though you may be facing extreme difficulties. This is because a sense of purpose offers a psychological buffer that makes it easier for you to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and keep pushing forward toward achieving your purpose.

Build a Strong Social Network

Having a strong social network means you have people in your circle you trust who you can talk to when you find yourself struggling with a challenge. Talking with others won't necessarily remove the challenge, but it allows you to talk it out, get positive feedback, and discuss possible solutions.

Be Optimistic

Being optimistic means working to keep a positive attitude even in the face of adversity. Focusing on the positive outcomes helps you recognize the challenges you face as only temporary and acknowledges that you have the skills to overcome them.

Resilience Is The Ability To Survive Traumatic Situations And Keep Going
Learn How To Deal With Trauma By Talking To A Therapist Today


Practice Gratitude

Studies have found that practicing gratitude regularly help individuals remain resilient while facing difficulties. Some ways to practice gratitude include practicing mindfulness, keeping a gratitude journal, giving a thank you note to someone that makes your life easier, taking a moment of silence, meditating, etc.

Engage in Self-Care

Engaging in self-care means doing the things necessary to keep your mind and body in working order so you are ready for taking on challenges when they do arise. Self-care is different for everyone and may include finding ways to manage stress, exercising, taking a break from social media, pampering yourself, spending time with loved ones, or getting enough sleep.

Get Support from BetterHelp

Resilience is something that can be taught and learned, but sometimes we need a little help and guidance. While we can look to others we know who have high resilience, another option is to talk to a licensed counselor. A counselor can help you evaluate your own behaviors and thought patterns and guide you to make the necessary changes and adjustments to increase your resilience.

While there's always the option of finding a therapist's office, juggling your schedule to fit in an available appointment, and commuting to an overly airconditioned office, BetterHelp eliminates these stressors involved in traditional counseling by offering counseling services online. This means you can talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own space, at a time that is convenient for you, via messaging, live chat, over the phone, or video conferencing. The counselors at BetterHelp are licensed and certified and have worked with thousands of others to build up and improve their resilience in the face of adversity. Read what others have to say about BetterHelp counselors below.

Counselor Reviews

"I feel secure knowing my problems are in the hands of someone who has the expertise to help me. She re-assured me and helped me remain positive through discussing my issues, and I did not feel like I was "wrong", but instead gently realized the things I need to work on. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got out of even one video session. I have been using June's truths as reminders for myself when I feel myself falling back into old patterns. I feel confident that if I have other problems, I can talk to her about them."

"Dr. Julie is great! I went through one of the lowest points in my personal life but she kept my perspective focused on the right areas, had enough warmth and empathy to make me feel better about myself and also gave some sharp insights into my mental constructs. I do believe she has the right approach and the right insights to help me get through a difficult time and have resilience. Thanks!"

You're Stronger Than You Think

You have the power to increase your resilience by proactively working on the behaviors, thoughts, and actions that lead to high resilience. This will help you bounce back from adversity quickly and put you on the path to success in today's ever-changing environment. Take the first step forward toward increasing your resilience today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does it mean to have resilience?

The concept behind the definition of resilience is based on how well people are able to bounce back from trying life situations. Resilience is the ability to overcome challenging circumstances without suffering a major loss of momentum or forward movement.

What is the best definition of resilience?

The best definition is how well people bounce back from adverse situations. When people have strong resilience, resilient people are more likely to make it through difficult challenges where people with less resilience may succumb to the weight of the challenge.

Why is being resilient important?

It's important to have emotional resilience to recover from challenging circumstances in life. Without being able to draw on the reserves of resilience that carry us through tough times -- many of us wouldn't be able to handle the challenges of living in everyday society. The definition of resilence is an everyday concept for people living with chronic mental health issues.

What are examples of resilience?

Examples of resilience in action are people who are able to overcome challenges with adverse circumstances in their lives like the unexpected loss of a loved one, job, or dealing with chronic mental health issues like anxiety or depression. Many people living with mental health issues understand the definition for resilience well -- as they draw on their backup reserves on almost a daily basis.

What is the synonym of resilience?

Other definitions of resilience and synonyms for resilience include flexibility, pliability, plasticity, and elasticity. All of these examples are related to resilience. The word resilience refers to being flexible physically and mentally. The more you're able to rely on resilience in dealing with life's challenges, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Why is being resilient important?

Building resilience is important when it comes to navigating difficult situations in life. Many professional counselors and teachers have started a resilience project that helps people without strong resilience to learn how to develop a stronger resolve to succeed in life. The definition of resilience in a nutshell is staying strong and overcoming challenges -- regardless of the circumstances behind them.

Can resilience be taught?

It may surprise you to learn that the resilience definition includes people who learned how to become this way over time. Definitions for resilience don't always highlight the fact that people can learn to develop stronger resilience over time. This is especially true in the cases of people taking advantage of learning through the resilience project and one-on-one counseling sessions with therapists.

How is resilience developed?

Resilience is developed over time as new behaviors and thoughts are learned through learning and teaching exercises. While some people are born naturally resilient, others need coaching and information on how to become more resilient during times of stress and unfortunate life circumstances.

What is the meaning of resilience?

For a vivid image that shows the definition of resilient, think of resilient materials. For example, the cushions of a new sofa may be remarkably resilient. That is, when you sit on them, they spring back to their original shape as soon as you get up. A low-quality cushion, or one that has been used for too long, might not have the same amount of resilience, so it might leave an indentation where you sat.

What does highly resilient mean?

In psychology, being highly resilient means that you are very quick to bounce back from setbacks. The definition of resilient is a good start in that you can recover quickly and easily when you face obstacles. Being highly resilient is only different by degree. You may encounter one stressful or even traumatic event after another, but time after time, you regain your emotional equilibrium very quickly and easily.

What is an example of resilience?

When you consider the definition of resilient, it is easy to think of many examples of resilient emotional strength. One example is if you are having trouble finding a job. Say you have to go to many interviews before you are hired. Each time, you hope to win the job, and each time you are disappointed. Yet, if you are resilient, you don't get discouraged for long. Eventually, you find a job, and your resilience pays off.

Now, consider what would happen if you weren't resilient. You might get depressed about failing to pass your first interview. Instead of bouncing back and trying again, you might give up. You might even move in with a relative so they can support you rather than face the disappointment again.

What are the traits of a resilient person?

Aside from the basic definition of resilient, knowing the characteristics of a resilient person can be very beneficial. Here are some of the most important traits to develop if you want to achieve greater resilience. If you are resilient, you:

  • Are self-aware.
  • Look for the positive, even when you are suffering.
  • Let go of anger.
  • Receive constructive criticism without taking it personally.
  • Set and keep clear boundaries in your relationships.
  • Take care of your physical and mental health.
  • Look at problems as challenges to be conquered.
  • Recognize that everything is temporary.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Accept what you can't change.
  • Hang out with other resilient people.
  • Don't expect yourself to have all the answers.
  • Are open to new perspectives and possibilities.

What are the 5 skills of resilience?

The five skills of resilience are:

  1. Practicing self-awareness, even when it involves asking yourself the tough questions.
  2. Focusing your attention on the here and now.
  3. Letting go physically to relieve muscle tension and calm your body.
  4. Letting go mentally, setting aside internal struggles to make space for new ways of thinking.
  5. Embracing positivity.

What are the 7 C's of resilience?

The 7 C's of resilience are competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control.

What makes a person resilient?

The things that make one person more resilient than another include heredity, personal history, environment, and the context of the situation they're in. While you cannot change your genetic code, you can change your thoughts and behaviors, creating a new area of personal history and changing the context of the situation.

How can a person become resilient?

Start by understanding the definition of resilient. Then, practice the traits of resilience, even if you don't feel comfortable with them at first. Working with a therapist is an excellent way to develop the skills of resilience and a more positive mindset.

How do you know if you are resilient?

Applying the definition of resilient to your own life requires a bit of objectivity. Look at your emotional reactions and notice how long they last. If one setback keeps you down for very long, you need to work to improve your resilience. But if you can face repeated disappointments and bounce back quickly each time, congratulate yourself on being a resilient person!

Is being resilient a good thing?

Yes, being resilient has many benefits. If you are resilient, you may enjoy many health benefits, such as living longer and avoiding chronic health problems like high blood pressure, heartburn, heart disease, or even a weakened immune system. Your mental health is better, too, and you have less risk of depression and anxiety. In addition to these physical and mental health outcomes, you may also enjoy practical benefits from improving your resilience. For example, if you are resilient, you have the strength to keep trying even when things look tough. Then, you can keep trying until you achieve your goals in your career, in your relationships, and any other life challenges.

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