What is Resilience and Why is it important to our Mental Health?


We frequently hear the term resilience in the news, in articles, magazines, on the news and bandied about in conversation.

But what actually is resilience and why do we need to consider this when talking about mental health?

What is resilience?

When we look at materials, such as nylon, resilience is the ability of that material to bounce back into shape. 

Resilience in humans is pretty much the same, but not quite.

It is our ability to mentally bounce back, to recover quickly from difficulties we experience.

When we hear about resilience, people often relate it to mental health. But what is mental health?

Defining Mental Health Problems

When we hear the term mental health, there is often an assumption that it means mental health difficulties or problems.

Mental health and mental health problems are different things.

Mental health problems can occur when a person finds it difficult to get on with their lives due to conditions such as –

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bi-polar disorder
  • OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)

Defining Mental Health

Mental health is actually our –

  • Social health
  • Psychological health
  • Emotional health

It affects the way in which we –

  • Behave
  • Think
  • Feel

Mental health is not simply an absence of mental health difficulties.  This is where people can confuse the terms mental health with mental health difficulties. 

In 1958, Jahoda suggested six criteria that demonstrate a person has good mental health. These were –

  • Self-actualisation (being the best they can be or working towards being their best self)
  • Autonomy (being independent)
  • Resistance to stress (able to handle stressful situations)
  • Mastery of their environment (being able to adapt to new situations)
  • Accurate perception of reality (see a clear view of reality)
  • Positive attitude towards themselves (their self-esteem)

Jahoda’s criteria are still considered a good indication of good mental health today. 

Why is resilience important then?

Research has suggested that some people with mental health difficulties may have lower resilience. However, this does not mean that everyone with mental health difficulties does. Resilience is important for everyone to ensure that they are able to deal with the difficulties that life throws at them. Resilience does not mean that the problems don’t matter or that they go away. It means that the person is able to deal with their problems and move on with their lives in an effective way. That  makes it sound easy, and of course, life isn’t always easy. But resilience means that the person is able to move on positively to their future.

Resilience can also help to

  • protect again mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression
  • help people to deal with difficult situations, such as bullying and trauma


How Can We Improve Resilience in Adults and Children?

We can improve our resilience or the resilience of others in a number of ways –

Seek Social Support

Resilience means we can adapt to difficult situations. Life can be difficult at times and to be resilient is to be able to experience difficult experiences and emotions, but to still function and carry on with your life.

Resilience does not mean being a martyr or coping on your own.

  • It means that you are able to ask for help, to seek support.
  • Good social support is important for our mental health. Humans are social animals. We need others. When we experience difficulties, a resilient person will ask for help!
  • So – build good, positive relationships with friends, family and colleagues.
  • If you do not have good social support currently, seek out a community by volunteering, join a group, start a sport, start a new hobby.
  • Seek support online by joining online groups who have similar hobbies and interests to you.

Help Others

When we are struggling, it can be easy to focus on ourselves and our own problems. Try to help others as well.

Other people will be experiencing the similar difficulties to you, by talking to each other, you can give support to each other

Volunteering, as we said earlier, can also improve our feelings of self-worth and provide us with a daily routine

Helping others can also make us feel good. A teacher recently posted on social media that at the end of every school year, she encourages her students to do something nice for someone else. For example, growing sunflowers from seed then giving them to people in their local community who might be lonely. Do something simple to help others.

Be kind and nice to other people. Not everyone will reciprocate in a positive way, but you will find that many will.

Have a Routine

A daily routine is good for our mental health.  Routines do not have to be boring, but simple tasks that we do on a daily basis can be helpful to keep a focus on our lives. They can be simple, such as –

  • Get up and take out the dog
  • Make a cup of tea
  • Make some toast and sit and look out of the window at the world around us

Etc Etc

Sometimes when we experience difficulties, we can find it hard to maintain our bigger routines.  Maintaining simple routines like this can help us to eventually maintain larger routines, such as going to work, going to school or college, meeting friends.


Think of ways that you can deal with current difficulties, ways to resolve them or at least make things a bit easier.

Setting Goals

Sometimes we can feel as though we are not achieving, not reaching our goals.

Set yourself clear, achievable goals that you want to achieve.

Goals do not have to be massive, like writing a novel.

They can be simple –

  • Dust my lounge today
  • Phone a friend or family member
  • Write an email you have been putting off

If we set simple, achievable goals, this can help to promote our self-esteem.

  • If we do not have goals in our lives, we can feel rudderless and lost.
  • If we set goals that are too hard, we may not achieve them and then feel like a failure

So set simple goals that can be achieved

That doesn’t mean you should not have more difficult goals, like writing a novel, but break those large goals down into smaller steps. For example –

  • Free write for 5 minutes a day
  • Draw up a plot for your novel
  • Try writing short stories or poetry
  • Start a writing course
  • Look at online tips and ideas for writing

Break down goals into achievable steps to improve your self-esteem and sense of achievement.

Our Experience Counts

We have all experienced hardships in our lives. Sometimes those difficulties can knock us for six, but for many people, they will eventually pick themselves up and carry on with their lives. It may be a slightly different life to before, but it is still their life. 

  • When we experience a new difficulty, look at those strategies that we used in previous hardships.
  • How did we cope?
  • What did we do?
  • Who helped us last time?
  • Did we have hobbies or interests or different techniques, such as mindfulness, that we found useful?

Use what helped last time as a way to deal with current difficulties.

Use these strategies as a way to handle future hardships.

Be Hopeful

The world can feel hopeless at times, but we should aim to always look to the future, to have hope.

We cannot change our past. We cannot always change the whole world, but we can try and change our small part of the world, our own lives, so retain hope in that.

One method of dealing with depression and other mental health conditions is cognitive behaviour therapy.

In CBT, the focus is on changing irrational thoughts for more positive ones.

“Everything I do is wrong.”

This is an example of an irrational thought. Not everything a person does can be wrong. With CBT, the therapist would help the person to change that irrational thought for a more positive one. For example –

“Yes, I didn’t handle that very well, but that is a one-off situation. I usually do very well in situations like this.”

Another example –

“I failed my exam. Therefore, I am stupid.”

Think about other exams that you have passed or situations that you have done well in. 

One bad experience should not remove all hope from us.

So, try to focus on the positive thoughts, not just the negative ones.

Physical And Mental Health Are Intertwined

Our mental health and physical health are joined. Our physical health can affect our mental health and vice versa. So, improve your resilience, make sure that you take care of your mental and physical health –

  • Try to eat a healthy diet. It is easy to comfort eat or neglect ourselves when we are feeling hardships, but the routine of preparing food and eating healthily can improve our resilience.
  • Get some exercise – even if it is only a short walk. Exercise has been found to be linked to increasing our levels of serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to low moods. So, getting a bit of exercise can help to improve our mood.
  • Get plenty of sleep. If sleep is difficult, try to rest.
  • Try relaxation techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness exercises

Finally, Be Proactive

We all experience difficulties and will no doubt experience them again.

  • Ask for help!
  • Do not ignore problems. Make a plan and do something about it.
  • If you are really struggling, seek professional help.

Developing good resilience can help people to cope more effectively in the future when they experience difficulties.


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