How Resilience Helps You Cope With Life's Challenges

Learn how to boost your ability to bounce back from hardship

Mature woman contemplating at home

FG Trade/E+/Getty

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Resilience is the ability to cope with and recover from setbacks. People who remain calm in the face of disaster have resilience.

A resilient person is someone who has strong coping skills and is able to marshall their available resources, ask for help when needed, and find ways to manage the situation they are facing. People with psychological resilience are able to use their skills and strengths to respond to life's challenges, which can include those related to:

Instead of falling into despair or hiding from issues by using unhealthy coping strategies, resilient people face life's difficulties head-on.

People with resilience do not experience less distress, grief, or anxiety than other people do. Instead, they use healthy coping skills to handle such difficulties in ways that foster strength and growth, often emerging stronger than they were before.

This article discusses the signs, types, and causes of resilience. It also covers some of the strategies that people can use to become more resilient.

Signs of Resilience

Resilient people often have a number of different characteristics that help them weather life's challenges. Some of the signs of resilience include:

  • A survivor mentality: When people are resilient, they view themselves as survivors. They know that even when things are difficult, they can keep going until they make it through.
  • Effective emotional regulation: Resilience is marked by an ability to manage emotions in the face of stress. This doesn't mean that resilient people don't experience strong emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear. It means that they recognize those feelings are temporary and can be managed until they pass.
  • Feeling in control: Resilient people tend to have a strong internal locus of control and feel that their actions can play a part in determining the outcome of events. 
  • Problem-solving skills: When problems arise, resilient people look at the situation rationally and try to come up with solutions that will make a difference.
  • Self-compassion: Another sign of resilience is showing self-acceptance and self-compassion. Resilient people treat themselves with kindness, especially when things are hard.
  • Social support: Having a solid network of supportive people is another sign of resilience. Resilient people recognize the importance of support and knowing when they need to ask for help.


Signs of resilience include the ability to regulate emotions, a sense of confidence and control, effective coping skills, and leaning on social support when needed.

Types of Resilience

Resilience represents an ability to handle life's setbacks and is an overall representation of adaptability. However, there are also different types of resilience, each of which can influence a person's ability to cope with various forms of stress

Physical Resilience

Physical resilience refers to how the body deals with change and recovers from physical demands, illnesses, and injuries. Research suggests that this type of resilience plays an important role in health. It affects how people age as well as how they respond and recover from physical stress and medical issues.

Physical resilience is something that people can improve—to a certain extent—by making healthy lifestyle choices. Getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and engaging in regular exercise are just a few ways to strengthen this type of resilience.

Mental Resilience

Mental resilience refers to a person's ability to adapt to change and uncertainty. People who possess this type of resilience are flexible and calm during times of crisis. They use mental strength to solve problems, move forward, and remain hopeful even when they are facing setbacks.

Emotional Resilience

Emotional resilience involves being able to regulate emotions during times of stress. Resilient people are aware of their emotional reactions and tend to be in touch with their inner life. Because of this, they are also able to calm their mind and manage their emotions when they are dealing with negative experiences. 

This type of resilience also helps people maintain a sense of optimism when times are tough. Because they are emotionally resilient, they understand that adversity and difficult emotions won't last forever.

Social Resilience

Social resilience, which may also be called community resilience, involves the ability of groups to recover from difficult situations. It involves people connecting with others and working together to solve problems that affect people both individually and collectively. 

Aspects of social resilience include coming together after disasters, supporting each other socially, becoming aware of the risks that the community faces, and building a sense of community. Such responses can be important during challenges such as natural disasters that affect communities or large groups of people.

What are the four types of resilience?

Resilience can come in different forms. The four main types of resilience are physical resilience, mental resilience, emotional resilience, and social resilience.

Causes of Resilience

Some people are naturally resilient, with personality traits that help them remain unflappable in the face of challenge. However, these behaviors are not just inborn traits found in a select few. Resilience is the result of a complex series of internal and external characteristics, including genetics, physical fitness, mental health, and environment.

Social support is another critical variable that contributes to resilience. Mentally strong people tend to have the support of family and friends to help bolster them up in times of trouble.

Resilient people also tend to have characteristics like:

  • Being a good communicator
  • Having an internal locus of control
  • Having high emotional intelligence and managing emotions effectively
  • Holding positive views of themselves and their abilities
  • Possessing the capacity to make realistic plans and stick to them
  • Viewing themselves as fighters rather than victims of circumstance

Impact of Resilience

Resilience is what gives people the psychological strength to cope with stress and hardship. It is the mental reservoir of strength that people are able to call on in times of need to carry them through without falling apart. Psychologists believe that resilient individuals are better able to handle adversity and rebuild their lives after a struggle.

Dealing with change or loss is an inevitable part of life. At some point, everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks. Some of these challenges might be relatively minor (not getting into a class or being turned down for a promotion at work), while others are disastrous on a much larger scale (hurricanes and terrorist attacks).

Those who lack resilience may become overwhelmed by such experiences. They may dwell on problems and use unhelpful coping mechanisms to deal with them.

Disappointment or failure might drive them to unhealthy, destructive, or even dangerous behaviors. These individuals are slower to recover from setbacks and may experience more psychological distress as a result.

How people deal with these problems can play a significant role in not only the immediate outcome but also the long-term psychological consequences.

Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life's difficulties. People who possess this quality don't see life through rose-colored lenses. They understand that setbacks happen and that sometimes life is hard and painful. They still experience the negative emotions that come after a tragedy, but their mental outlook allows them to work through these feelings and recover.

Resilience gives people the strength to tackle problems head-on, overcome adversity, and move on with their lives. In the wake of large-scale traumas such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals demonstrated the behaviors that typify resilience—and they experienced fewer symptoms of depression as a result.

Even in the face of events that seem utterly unimaginable, resilience allows people to marshal the strength to not just survive but to prosper.

How to Become More Resilient

Fortunately, resilience is something that people can build in themselves. Parents can also help their children become resilient. There are distinct steps that can lead to greater resilience.

Reframe Negative Thoughts

Resilient people are able to look at negative situations realistically, but in a way that doesn't center on blame or brooding over what cannot be changed. Instead of viewing adversity as insurmountable, reframe thoughts to look for small ways to tackle the problem and make changes that will help.

Focusing on the positive things you can do is a great way to get out of a negative mindset.

This approach can also be used to help children learn how to better cope with challenges. Encourage them to think about challenges in more positive, hopeful ways. This way, instead of getting stuck in a loop of negative emotions, a child can learn to see these events as opportunities to challenge themselves and develop new skills.

Seek Support

Talking about life's difficulties doesn't make them go away, but sharing with a supportive friend or loved one can make people feel like they have someone in their corner. That can support the development of resilience. Discussing things with others can also help people gain insight on the challenges they are facing, or even come up with new ideas for managing them.

To help a child develop a support network, adults should try modeling good social skills like sharing feelings, being empathetic, cooperating with and helping others, and expressing gratitude—and remember to reinforce a child's good behavior.

Focus On What Is Within Control

When faced with a crisis or problem, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by things that feel far beyond our control. Instead of wishing there was some way to go back in time or change things, it can be helpful to try focusing on what we can directly impact. Adults can also encourage children to develop this skill by talking about their situation and helping them make a plan for how they can react.

Even when the situation seems dire, taking realistic steps can help improve it. No matter how small these steps may be, they can improve your sense of control and resilience.

Manage Stress

Building healthy stress management habits is an effective way to increase overall resilience. These habits could include behaviors that help overall health, like getting enough sleep and exercise, as well as specific actions to take during moments of stress, like:

With some practice, adults and children alike can learn and master these skills. Eventually, they then tend to feel prepared to face stressful situations and resilient enough to bounce back quickly. For those struggling to keep stress levels under control, it may be helpful to consider enlisting the support of a cognitive therapist.


While some people tend to be more naturally resilient, it is also a skill that can be strengthened. Looking at situations in more positive ways, getting support from others, and focusing on what can be controlled are helpful strategies. Good stress management skills can also foster greater resilience.

A Word From Verywell

While previous findings suggested that most people tend to be resilient, one 2016 study found that resilience in the face of events such as the death of a spouse, divorce, and unemployment is less common than previously believed. Such findings indicate a need for interventions and support following stressful or traumatic life events.

If you are struggling to cope with challenges, don't be afraid to talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Even resilient people need help and part of being resilient is knowing when to ask for support and assistance.

Press Play for Advice On Building Resilience

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can build inner strength and resilience.

Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does being resilient mean?

    The true meaning of resilience is that you are able to respond to the challenges you face in a way that not just helps you survive the adversity, but also bounce back. When you are a resilient person, you're able to recover from setbacks while remaining calm and in control in the process.

  • Why is resilience important?

    Your level of resilience determines your ability to approach the personal challenges you face from a position of strength and growth. Professionally, being resilient can reduce your risk of burnout.

  • What is an example of resilience?

    If you are faced with the loss of a relationship or the death of someone you love and respond in a way that fosters your growth—such as by focusing on what you can control versus what you can't—this is an example of resilience. Another example is being involved in a natural disaster and coming up with solutions to the problems the disaster created while also regulating your emotional response.

  • What are the key factors in resilience?

    There are a number of different factors that play an essential role in resilience. They include coping skills, emotional regulation, a sense of control, communication skills, and social support. These interact to allow people to feel confident in their abilities to cope, make realistic plans to deal with problems, manage emotional responses in the face of stress, and seek out the support and assistance they need in times of crisis.

  • How does trauma affect resilience?

    The impact of trauma can depend on a variety of factors, including a person's age, existing resources, and the nature of the trauma. People with strong support and existing emotional resources are likely to emerge from trauma with an even greater sense of resilience. Children are often resilient to trauma, but ongoing or cumulative traumas can significantly affect a child's ability to recover and may impact future resilience.

  • What is the Brief Resilience Scale?

    A measure of resilience, the Brief Resilience Scale consists of six statements, each of which you indicate whether you strongly agree, strongly disagree, or somewhere in between. This scale is considered to be the only one that measures resilience according to its most basic meaning, which is "to bounce back or recover from stress."

  • Is resilience a skill or quality?

    People are sometimes referred to as being resilient, suggesting that this is a personality trait or quality. However, resilience is actually a skill. This means that the more you practice your resilience, the more resilient you can become.

  • What are the 7 resilience skills?

    Resilience skills are skills that, when strengthened, can improve your resilience. Research indicates that these resilience skills include leveraging your personal strengths, setting healthy boundaries, regulating your emotions, recognizing cognitive distortion, developing realistic expectations, finding meaning in what you do, and committing to long-term development.

16 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Horn SR, Feder A. Understanding resilience and preventing and treating PTSD. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2018;26(3):158-174. doi:10.1097/HRP.0000000000000194

  2. Vaughan E, Koczwara B, Kemp E, Freytag C, Tan W, Beatty L. Exploring emotion regulation as a mediator of the relationship between resilience and distress in cancer. Psychooncology. 2019;28(7):1506-1512. doi:10.1002/pon.5107

  3. Whitson HE, Duan-Porter W, Schmader KE, Morey MC, Cohen HJ, Colón-Emeric CS. Physical resilience in older adults: Systematic review and development of an emerging construct. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2016;71(4):489-95. doi:10.1093/gerona/glv202

  4. Kwok AH, Doyle EEH, Becker J, Johnston D, Paton D. What is ‘social resilience’? Perspectives of disaster researchers, emergency management practitioners, and policymakers in New Zealand. Int J Disaster Risk Reduct. 2016;19:197-211. doi:10.1016/j.ijdrr.2016.08.013

  5. Zager Kocjan G, Kavčič T, Avsec A. Resilience matters: Explaining the association between personality and psychological functioning during the COVID-19 pandemicInt J Clin Health Psychol. 2021;21(1):100198. doi:10.1016/j.ijchp.2020.08.002

  6. Osório C, Probert T, Jones E, Young AH, Robbins I. Adapting to stress: Understanding the neurobiology of resilience. Behav Med. 2017;43(4):307-322. doi:10.1080/08964289.2016.1170661

  7. Reid R. Psychological resilience. Med Leg J. 2016;84(4):172-184. doi:10.1177/0025817216638781

  8. Walker FR, Pfingst K, Carnevali L, Sgoifo A, Nalivaiko E. In the search for integrative biomarker of resilience to psychological stress. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017;74(Pt B):310-320. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.05.003

  9. Lee J, Blackmon BJ, Cochran DM, Kar B, Rehner TA, Gunnell MS. Community resilience, psychological resilience, and depressive symptoms: An examination of the Mississippi Gulf Coast 10 years after Hurricane Katrina and 5 years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2018;12(2):241-248. doi:10.1017/dmp.2017.61

  10. Shi L, Sun J, Wei D, Qiu J. Recover from the adversity: Functional connectivity basis of psychological resilience. Neuropsychologia. 2019;122:20-27. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.12.002

  11. American Psychological Association. Building your resilience.

  12. Rose RD, Buckey JC, Zbozinek TD, et al. A randomized controlled trial of a self-guided, multimedia, stress management and resilience training programBehav Res Ther. 2013;51(2):106-112. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2012.11.003

  13. Infurna FJ, Luthar SS. Resilience to major life stressors is not as common as thought. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2016;11(2):175-194. doi:10.1177/1745691615621271

  14. Back AL, Steinhauser KE, Kamal AH, Jackson VA. Building resilience for palliative care clinicians: An approach to burnout prevention based on individual skills and workplace factors. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2016;52(2):284-291. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2016.02.002

  15. Salisu I, Hashim N. A critical review of scales used in resilience research. IOSR J Bus Manage. 2017;19(4):23-33. doi:10.9790/487X-1904032333

  16. U.S. Department of State. What is resilience?

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."