What Is Resilience? Building Better Coping Skills

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Resilience is typically characterized by the ability of an individual to adapt to challenging experiences, primarily through behavioral, emotional, and mental flexibility. Many factors can contribute to how well you adapt to challenges, including your view of the world, the strength of your support system, and how developed your coping skills are. If you lack resilience, research suggests that it is something anyone can learn. You might start by taking care of your mind and body, connecting with others, keeping things in perspective, and moving toward your goals, one step at a time. You may also find it helpful to work with a licensed therapist in an online or in-office setting.

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Everyone has the capacity for resilience

Types of resilience

People may face many types of adversity, like trauma, threats, serious illnesses, family problems, relationship stressors, and financial concerns. Countless challenges can occur that are entirely out of your hands, but there may also be many factors within your control. In your quest to navigate various obstacles, you may draw on the following types of resilience: 

  • Physical Resilience:Physical resilience can be defined as the ability to physically recover from something that stresses the body, like an infection, bed rest, illness, or stress. You might think of it as being able to adapt to physical challenges while maintaining strength or recovering effectively and efficiently from damage, injury, or exhaustion.
  • Mental Resilience: Mental or psychological resilience is generally being able to adapt during periods of uncertainty. People who are mentally resilient typically remain calm and flexible during crises, which may allow them to solve problems and adjust plans to keep moving forward despite setbacks.
  • Emotional Resilience: People with emotional resilience are usually in touch with their emotions and able to regulate them during periods of stress. This can enable them to navigate negative experiences more successfully and maintain optimism even when circumstances are difficult.
  • Social Or Community Resilience:Social resilience tends to be different from the others, as it normally involves an entire community. This type of resilience can refer to the ability of the people in a community to cope with different shocks and stressors. Their resilience (or lack thereof) can contribute to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.

Misconceptions about resilience

It can be easy to assume that resilient people make it through life’s challenges easily and don’t have to cope with emotional pain or stress, but this generally isn’t the case. Developing resilience is likely to involve some amount of emotional distress

In general, everyone faces difficult emotions, including resilient individuals, particularly during challenging times. The difference may be that resilient people are usually more equipped to solve problems and thrive in challenging situations.

Another misconception people might have about resilience is that resilient people don’t rely on others because they’re tough enough to handle problems independently. However, resilience isn’t necessarily about being able to handle everything alone. In fact, having a solid support network is one factor that can make people more resilient. 

People may also believe that resilience is something you either have or don’t have, but this is generally not true. Resilience isn’t usually a trait that some people are lucky enough to be born with. Rather, resilience may be seen as something anyone can learn, and research shows that human resilience tends to be ordinary, not extraordinary. It can be possible to learn resilience, but it often takes considerable time, effort, practice, and consistency. 

How to build resilience

If you believe that you have unhealthy coping mechanisms and are ready to put in the time and effort to change, here are some strategies you can use to build resilience.

Build and maintain connections

Connecting with people who understand and genuinely care about you can help you feel more supported during challenging times. Being able to lean on others during the difficult moments of life can improve your resilience by reminding you that you’re not alone. Try to build and maintain relationships with people you can trust and count on.

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Take care of your body and mind

Self-care can be essential to positive mental and physical well-being. Stress often affects our bodies physically, mentally, and emotionally. Prioritizing habits like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising can help you gain the strength and resilience to handle difficult situations when they arise. 

Be proactive

It may be easy to ask, “Why me?” when things get hard, but try asking, “What can I do about this?” instead. If you’re facing a big problem, breaking it down into smaller pieces can make it seem more manageable. Plus, you can reward yourself for making progress, even if you’re just taking small steps forward.

Constantly move toward your goals

It can be important to set goals and keep trying to move toward them. Aim to do something regularly to get you closer to what you want to accomplish, no matter how small. Ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today to help me get there?” Setting goals for something like saving money or advancing your career might seem obvious, but you can set goals for just about anything you’d like to accomplish. 

Keep things in perspective

How you think about problems can significantly affect how you approach them. Try to identify any catastrophic thinking patterns and remind yourself that different situations are usually only temporary and may eventually pass. At the same time, recognize that change can be a part of life, and some things you had planned may no longer be attainable. In that case, instead of focusing on what you can’t change, try to focus on what you can control about your situation and what steps you can take next.

Learn from your past

What helped you in previous situations that you can draw on to get through the challenges you’re currently facing? Remind yourself of everything you’ve already been through and the difficult things you’ve already done. Doing so can show you the inner strength and resilience you already possess.

Get support from a professional

While everyone may be capable of building resilience, it’s not always easy to do so. Some people get stuck and need more support than the strategies above can offer. Working with a therapist can help you identify obstacles that could be getting in your way and develop strategies for moving forward.

Benefits of online therapy

Without the psychological resilience to cope with the challenges of life, you may become overwhelmed or develop mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. If this is your reality, it can be vital to know that you’re not alone. Whether you’re coping with something particularly challenging or want to learn how to change unhealthy coping strategies, online therapy can give you the personalized support you deserve. With online therapy, you can get matched with a licensed mental health professional who has training and experience in the areas where you’re seeking support. With the ability to communicate with your therapist via phone, video chat, or messaging, it may be easier and more convenient to get help according to your preferences and schedule.  

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Everyone has the capacity for resilience

Effectiveness of online therapy

Therapy can be useful, whether you attend online or in person. In one study, researchers compared online and traditional face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy for promoting resilience. They found that, in general, there was no significant difference in the effectiveness of internet-based cognitive behavioral counseling and face-to-face counseling. Both groups of participants typically experienced a significant increase in their levels of resilience and improvements in their mental health. These outcomes were typically maintained at a five-week follow-up. Cognitive behavioral therapy usually seeks to change individuals’ automatic thoughts to more positive thinking patterns, thereby allowing them to shift their emotional responses and behaviors. 


Having resilience and a toolbelt of coping skills you can rely on can help you get through many different personal challenges. If you don’t believe you have the growth mindset you need to build resilience on your own, remember that it’s a skill anyone can adopt and improve upon. Resilience may come in many forms, and it can be useful in a variety of situations. If your emotional or mental resilience levels need improvement, consider speaking with an online therapist. They can provide support and give you encouragement to press forward despite life’s challenges.

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