Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.  It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.  

Resilience can be learned and developed by anyone.  A common misperception is that resilient people are free from negative emotions or thoughts, remaining optimistic in most or all situations.  To the contrary, resilient individuals have developed coping techniques that allow them to navigate effectively around or through crises.  Resilient people have learned to balance negative emotions with positive ones. 

Being resilient does not mean never experiencing difficulty or distress.  Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives.  In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Why is developing resilience important?  Resilience can prevent and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as other negative health consequences such as addictions.  It can help people become more successful and more satisfied with their lives.  

Becoming resilient.  A combination of factors contributes to resilience.  Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.  Relationships that create love and trust offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person's resilience.  Additionally, several other factors are associated with resilience, including:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  • Skills in communication and problem solving.
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

Important: stay flexible.  Resilience involves maintaining flexibility and balance in your life as you deal with stressful circumstances and traumatic events.  You can increase your flexibility and resilience in many ways, including:

  • Letting yourself experience strong emotions, and also realizing when you may need to avoid experiencing them at times in order to continue functioning.
  • Stepping forward and taking action to deal with your problems and meet the demands of daily living, and also stepping back to rest and reenergize yourself.
  • Spending time with loved ones to gain support and encouragement, and also nurturing yourself.
  • Relying on others, and also relying on yourself.

Developing resilience is a personal journey.  People do not all react the same to traumatic and stressful life events.  An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another.  It is important to look inward and consider your own patterns of adaptation and resistance.  If you benefit from conversation around these issues, you might consider approaching a trusted friend, a counselor, or the ombudsperson for more discussion on developing resilience.  Keep in mind that culture might have an impact on how someone communicates feelings and deals with adversity — for example, whether and how a person connects with significant others, including extended family members and community resources.  With growing cultural diversity, the public has greater access to a number of different approaches to building resilience.

Ten Ways to Build Resilience


  1. Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others is important.  Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.  Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith- based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope.  Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.  
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.  You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events.  Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.  Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.  
  3. Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations.  Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
  4. Move toward your goals.  Develop some realistic goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” 
  5. Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can.  Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away. 
  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss.  Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardships have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life. 
  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself.  Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.  
  8. Keep things in perspective.  Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader contest and keep a long-term perspective.  Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.  
  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook.  An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. 
  10. Take care of yourself.   Pay attention to your own needs and feelings.  Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.  Exercise regularly.  Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.  

Also try writing or meditating.  Some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma and other stressful events in their life.  People also write about what they are grateful for in Gratitude Journals.  Practicing mediation, mindfulness, and participating in other spiritual rituals help some people build connections and restore hope. 

The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.  


Porath, Christine.  "Managing Yourself: An Antidote to Incivility."  Harvard Business Review (April 2016).

Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatté.  The Resilience Factor: 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life's Inevitable Obstacles (2002).

Seligman, Marty.  Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind and Your Life (2011).


- Lauren Boudreau Ortiz, J.D., M.S. in Conflict & Dispute Resolution (expected Fall 2016)