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Feel like you can't cope with stress? Here’s how to be more resilient

Having a good level of resilience can impact our education, work, and recovery from illness

What is resilience?

Resilience is our capacity to cope with, or recover from, difficulty. Work stress, financial worries, family drama, health concerns – life is full of bumps in the road. Resilience is the process of adapting well to them. “To be resilient means bouncing back from difficult experiences and finding growth in our struggles too,” says psychologist Keelin O’Dwyer of

What does resilience feel like?

Resilience may be felt most by its absence. If it feels like one more scintilla of difficulty could send you over the edge, your resilience tank is probably running low. “It can appear similar to burnout. You might be emotionally dysregulated, snapping at the slightest thing and unable to function in daily life,” says O’Dwyer. “Meeting with friends, taking a shower or going to work can feel difficult. It might be not enjoying the Zumba class you usually enjoy, or feeling like you have nothing left to give.”

Why is resilience important?

Those who are resilient do well despite adversity. Having a good level of resilience can impact our health, education and employment, our mental wellbeing and even our recovery from illness. Resilience is not an innate feature of some people’s personalities, however. Low levels of resilience can be related to broader socioeconomic inequalities. This can mean those who face the most adversity are least likely to have the resources to build resilience. But doing certain things can improve our resilience if we have the capacity to do them.

Connect with others

Connecting with others increases our resilience, research shows. “Sharing our struggles with trustworthy and compassionate friends and family who validate our feelings – that support will improve our resilience,” says O’Dwyer. We can get the same benefit from joining a social group, being part of a cause or community initiative, or even doing therapy, she says. These things can provide social support to help us recover after a difficult time.


Keep well

Looking after ourselves is a protective barrier against stress and can increase our resilience too, says O’Dwyer. Eating well, drinking water and getting enough exercise and sleep will strengthen the body and mind when we are navigating adversity. “It typically takes 66 days to make something a habit. Opt for something doable like an extra glass of water a day. Building resilience is about taking small steps that build up over time, not big things we do sporadically,” she says.

Handle your mind

We are our own worst critics. Handling our minds can help us dampen this critical voice. “We can’t control our thoughts but we can create some distance between ourselves and the thought,” says O’Dwyer. “If you are having a thought that your work presentation didn’t go well and you are feeling deflated and that you are a failure, try saying to yourself, ‘Here’s thoughts.’ Or try putting this sentence before the thought: ‘I am having a thought that . . .’ Saying, ‘I am having a thought that I am a failure,’ is just a gentle reminder that it is a thought, not a fact.”

What are the benefits?

It’s not that resilient people don’t experience emotional distress or disappointment, but when they do, they can react to it and bounce back from it in a life-enhancing way, says O’Dwyer. “It will take more energy and time for someone who is less resilient to bounce back,” she says. Self-kindness and self-validation are key. “Engage in kind self-talk. Acknowledge that something is tough and that it sucks, or try using a kindness mantra like, ‘This sucks. Go easy on yourself.’”