What is resilience, why is it so important, and how do you know if you’re resilient enough?
Resilience refers to both the process and the outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, according to the definition from the American Psychological Association (APA). It’s having the mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and ability to adjust to both internal and external demands, per APA.
“It’s your ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns,” says Amit Sood, MD, the executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being and the creator of the Resilient Option program. (Dr. Sood is also a member of the Everyday Health Wellness Advisory Board.)
RELATED: Resilience Resource Center
It’s important to note that being resilient requires a skill set that you can work on and grow over time. Building resilience takes time, strength, and help from people around you; you’ll likely experience setbacks along the way. It depends on personal behaviors and skills (like self-esteem and communication skills), as well as external things (like social support and resources available to you).
Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Demonstrating resilience includes working through emotional pain and suffering.
Common Questions & Answers
What Is Resilience Theory?
People face all kinds of adversity in life. There are personal crises, such as illness, loss of a loved one, abuse, bullying, job loss, and financial instability. There is the shared reality of tragic events in the news, such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters, a global pandemic, and war. People have to learn to cope with and work through very challenging life experiences.
Resilience theory refers to the ideas surrounding how people are affected by and adapt to challenging things like adversity, change, loss, and risk. Resilience theory has been studied across different fields, including psychiatry, human development, and change management.
Resilience theory tells us that resilience isn’t a fixed trait (you can grow your capacity to practice resilience). And it’s not constant, in that you might demonstrate a lot of resilience when it comes to one challenge you’re faced with, but struggle more with being resilient when it comes to another stressor you’re up against.
Flexibility, adaptability, and perseverance can help people tap into their resilience by changing certain thoughts and behaviors. Research shows that when students believe that both intellectual abilities and social attributes can be developed and improved they increase their own resilience, showing a lower stress response to adversity and improved performance. (1)
Dr. Sood says resilience involves these five principles:
The Top Factors That Build Resilience
Developing resilience is both complex and personal. It involves a combination of inner strengths and outer resources, and there isn’t a universal formula for becoming more resilient.
According to APA, some of the key factors that contribute to one’s personal resilience include:
- The ways someone views and engages with the world
- The availability and quality of social resources
- Specific coping strategies
A combination of factors contributes to building resilience, and there isn’t a simple to-do list to work through adversity.
Resilience is also something that you develop over time. In a previous longitudinal study, factors that were protective for adolescents at risk of depression, such as family cohesion, positive self-appraisals, and good interpersonal relations, also led to more resilience in young adulthood. (2)
According to resilience theory, other factors that help build resilience include:
- Social support Research shows that one’s supportive social systems, which can include immediate or extended family, community, friends, and organizations, foster one’s resilience in times of crisis or trauma and support resilience in the individual. (3)
- Self-esteem A positive sense of self and confidence in one’s strengths can stave off feelings of helplessness in the face of adversity. A study published in November 2020 in Frontiers in Psychology found that self-esteem and resilience were closely related.
- Coping skills Coping and problem-solving skills help empower a person who has to work through adversity and overcome hardship. Research finds that using positive coping skills (like optimism and sharing) can help bolster resilience more than nonproductive coping skills.
- Communication skills Being able to communicate clearly and effectively helps people seek support, mobilize resources, and take action. Research shows that those who are able to interact with, show empathy toward, and inspire confidence and trust in others tend to be more resilient.
- Emotional regulation The capacity to manage potentially overwhelming emotions (or seek assistance to work through them) helps people maintain focus when overcoming a challenge, and has been linked to improved resilience, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology in November 2017 showed.
What Does the Research Say About Why Resilience Is Important?
Resilience is what gives people the emotional strength to cope with trauma, adversity, and hardship. Resilient people utilize their resources, strengths, and skills to overcome challenges and work through setbacks.
People who lack resilience are more likely to feel overwhelmed or helpless and rely on unhealthy coping strategies (such as avoidance, isolation, and self-medication).
A study published in May 2022 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggested that people with resilience, coping capabilities, and emotional intelligence are more likely to have better overall well-being than those with lower resilience, and better life satisfaction.
A study from the February 2022 issue of Psychology, Health & Medicine that surveyed 1,032 college students showed that emotional resilience was linked to reduced stress and a more positive life satisfaction overall during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One study showed that people who had attempted suicide had significantly lower resilience scale scores than people who had never attempted suicide.
Resilient people do experience stress, setbacks, and difficult emotions, but they tap into their strengths and seek help from support systems to overcome challenges and work through problems. Resilience empowers them to accept and adapt to a situation and move forward, Sood explains. “[It’s] the core strength you use to lift the load of life.”
What Are the 7 Cs of Resilience?
Ken Ginsburg, MD, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a cofounder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, developed the 7 Cs model of resilience to help kids and teens build the skills to be happier and more resilient.
The 7 Cs model is centered on two key points:
- Young people live up or down to the expectations that are set for them, and need adults who love them unconditionally and hold them to high expectations.
- How we model resilience for young people is far more important than what we say about it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics summarizes the 7 Cs as follows:
- Competence This is the ability to know how to handle situations effectively. To build competence, individuals develop a set of skills to help them trust their judgments and make responsible choices.
- Confidence Dr. Ginsburg says that true self-confidence is rooted in competence. Individuals gain confidence by demonstrating competence in real-life situations.
- Connection Close ties to family, friends, and community provide a sense of security and belonging.
- Character Individuals need a fundamental sense of right and wrong to make responsible choices, contribute to society, and experience self-worth.
- Contribution Ginsburg says that having a sense of purpose is a powerful motivator. Contributing to one’s community reinforces positive reciprocal relationships.
- Coping When people learn to cope with stress effectively, they are better prepared to handle adversity and setbacks.
- Control Developing an understanding of internal control helps individuals act as problem-solvers instead of victims of circumstance. When individuals learn that they can control the outcomes of their decisions, they are more likely to view themselves as capable and confident. (6)
The 7 Cs of resilience illustrate the interplay between personal strengths and outside resources, regardless of age.
Types of Resilience: Psychological, Emotional, Physical, and Community
The word resilience is often used on its own to represent overall adaptability and coping, but it can be broken down into categories or types:
- Psychological resilience
- Emotional resilience
- Physical resilience
- Community resilience
What Is Psychological Resilience?
Researchers define psychological resilience as the ability to mentally cope with or adapt to uncertainty, challenges, and adversity. It is sometimes referred to as “mental fortitude.”
People who exhibit psychological resilience develop coping strategies and skills that enable them to remain calm and focused during a crisis and move on without long-term negative consequences, including distress and anxiety.
What Is Emotional Resilience?
How people cope emotionally with stress and adversity varies from person to person, according to the Children’s Society. Some people are, by nature, more or less sensitive to change. A situation can trigger a flood of emotions in some people and not in others.
Emotionally resilient people understand what they’re feeling and why. They tap into realistic optimism, even when dealing with a crisis, and are proactive in using both internal and external resources to get through. They are able to manage external stressors and their own emotions in a healthy, positive way.
What Is Physical Resilience?
Physical resilience refers to the body’s ability to adapt to challenges, maintain stamina and strength, and recover quickly and efficiently. It’s a person’s ability to function and recover when faced with illness, accidents, or other physical demands.
Healthy lifestyle choices, connections with friends and neighbors, deep breathing, time well spent to rest and recover, and engagement in enjoyable activities all play a role in physical resilience.
What Is Community Resilience?
Community resilience refers to the ability of groups of people to respond to and recover from adverse situations, such as natural disasters, acts of violence, economic hardship, and other challenges to the group as a whole.
Real-life examples of community resilience include New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; Newtown, Connecticut, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina; and the communities of Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio, and Uvalde, Texas, in the wake of mass shootings.
As the United States grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented public health emergency, our resilience is being tested as never before.
Research and Statistics on Resilience
Research suggests that certain protective resources, rather than the absence of risk factors, play a significant role in a person’s capacity to confront and work through stressors. (8) Things like social support, adaptive coping skills, and the ability to tap into one’s inner strengths can help develop and strengthen resiliency in an individual.
When it comes to the idea of “natural resilience,” or a person’s innate ability to recover from adversity, the research is mixed.
Some studies suggest human resilience in the face of adversity is fairly common. To support this, one study reported that even though 50 to 60 percent of the U.S. population is exposed to traumatic events, only 5 to 10 percent of those people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (9)
Nevertheless, other research highlights the difficulty in studying resilience. A study that examined spousal loss, divorce, and unemployment and found that the statistical model used to interpret the resilience scores greatly influenced the results. (10) The authors concluded that prior research may have overestimated how common resilience is, and suggested that resilience may be more difficult to quantify and study than previously thought.
How Do I Train Myself to Be More Resilient?
The good news is that resilience can be learned. And it’s not about learning how to “grin and bear it” or to simply “get over it.” Nor is it learning to avoid obstacles or resist change.
Building resilience is a process by which people become better at reframing thought patterns and tapping into a strengths-based approach to working through obstacles.
As a process, it doesn’t happen overnight, and even if you are already resilient, it’s something you have to work at to maintain. The following are steps that can help you build resilience over time.
- Develop self-awareness. Understanding how you typically respond to stress and adversity is the first step toward learning more adaptive strategies. Self-awareness also includes understanding your strengths and knowing your weaknesses.
- Build self-regulation skills. Remaining focused in the face of stress and adversity is important but not easy. Stress-reduction techniques, such as guided imagery, breathing exercise, and mindfulness training, can help individuals regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
- Learn coping skills. There are many coping skills that can help in dealing with stressful and challenging situations. They include journaling, reframing thoughts, exercising, spending time outdoors, socializing, improving sleep hygiene, and tapping into creative outlets.
- Increase optimism. People who are more optimistic tend to feel more in control of their outcomes. To build optimism, focus on what you can do when faced with a challenge, and identify positive, problem-solving steps that you can take.
- Strengthen connections. Support systems can play a vital role in resilience. Bolster your existing social connections and find opportunities to build new ones.
- Know your strengths. People feel more capable and confident when they can identify and draw on their talents and strengths.
Resilience is not a permanent state. A person may feel equipped to manage one stressor and overwhelmed by another. Remember the factors that build resilience and try to apply them when dealing with adversity.
In general, resilient people have many of the following characteristics, according to research:
- Social support They can rely on family, friends, and colleagues when needed.
- Problem-solving skills They identify ways within their control to work and resolve a problem.
- Optimism When the going gets tough, they believe in their ability to handle it.
- Coping skills They have techniques to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Self-awareness They know their strengths and weaknesses and how to put internal resources to work.
Resilience and Health Conditions
A review of research on resilience and chronic disease suggested that a person’s resilience can influence both the progression and outcome of illnesses.
Mental Health and Resilience
Resilience is a protective factor against psychological distress in adverse situations involving loss or trauma. It can help in the management of stress levels and depressive symptoms. Psychological resilience refers to the mental fortitude to handle challenges and adversity.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Resilience
Previous research found that behavioral and emotional strategies to cultivate resilience can benefit patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other chronic diseases. One previous study concluded that optimism and perceived social support help improve the quality of life for RA patients. (13)
Immunological Disorders and Resilience
Research supports the idea that physical resilience can reduce the adverse effect that stressors have on the immune system. Studies have shown that low resilience is associated with worsening of disease, whereas high resilience is associated with better quality of life.
Brain Injuries and Resilience
One study found that patients with traumatic brain injuries who tested moderate-high on a resilience scale reported significantly fewer post-injury symptoms and better quality of life than those with low resilience. (14)
Type 2 Diabetes and Resilience
Cancer and Resilience
Research published in April 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry linked resilience, notably personal strengths and social factors, to improved psychological and treatment-related outcomes for cancer patients. (16)
Digestive Conditions and Resilience
People suffering from anxiety and depression frequently report gastrointestinal distress as a primary symptom. Building resilience can reduce the stress and anxiety associated with some GI symptoms. Research shows a connection between low resilience and worse irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. (17)
Skin Conditions and Resilience
Dermatologic disorders are often accompanied by anxiety and stress. Stress, in turn, can trigger flare-ups of skin-related conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. Research suggest that patients with conditions like psoriasis show signs of less resilience, and early intervention to build resilience can improve symptoms and management of these conditions.
Endometriosis and Resilience
Studies have linked endometriosis and chronic, potentially debilitating pain to depressive mood, anxiety, and reduced resilience. Resilience can be an important factor in reducing the effects on physical, mental, and social well-being.
Resilience in Children
Kids confront any number of challenges as they grow — from starting school and making new friends to adverse, traumatic experiences, such as bullying and abuse.
Cultivating resilience from a young age — the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, and even sources of everyday stress at school or work such as performance or achievement — can help children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, according to the APA.
The 7 Cs model specifically addresses how to build resilience in kids and teens. It lists competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control as essential skills for young people to handle situations effectively.
Parents can help children develop resilience through positive behaviors and thoughts. The APA lists 10 tips for building resilience in young people:
- Foster social connections.
- Help children by having them help others.
- Maintain a daily routine.
- Take breaks from sources of stress.
- Teach self-care.
- Set realistic goals.
- Nurture a positive self-image.
- Keep things in perspective.
- Encourage self-discovery.
- Accept change as part of life.
There is no universal formula for building resilience in young people. If a child seems overwhelmed or troubled at school and at home, parents might consider talking to someone who can help, such as a counselor, psychologist, or other mental health professional.
Does Gender Affect Resilience?
Studies on resilience and gender suggest that men and women may respond differently to adversity and trauma. But the results have been conflicting.
In terms of survival and longevity, women historically thrive in greater numbers than men during times of crisis such as famines and epidemics. Even when overall life expectancy rose, researchers found women outlived men between six months and four years, research published in the journal PNAS in 2018 finds. (19)
On the other hand, studies have found that women are approximately twice as likely as men to develop PTSD after a traumatic event. The reason for the gender difference is unclear, but it may have something to do with coping styles for dealing with trauma. (20)
Resilience in Women
Resilience benefits both men and women when they face challenges and adversity. But women also draw on resilience to overcome obstacles that are more often placed in their way, such as job discrimination, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.
Research found that when confronted with gender bias in the workplace, women relied on adopting male characteristics, mentoring, and intrinsic motivational factors to work through obstacles. (21)
Resilience in Men
Resilience can protect both men and women from mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. (22)
Research has found that men who lack resilience are exponentially more vulnerable to becoming severely depressed after the loss of a spouse.
Research also showed that men with high resilience showed no additional depressive symptoms following a loss, and their overall well-being almost mirrored that of their married counterparts. (23)
A study, published in 2014 in the journal Progress in Community Health Partnerships, focused on perceived sources of stress and resilience, specifically among African American men, and found that most men found support for resiliency through family and religion. (24)
Resilience in Caregiving
The burden of caring for someone, such as an older adult or a chronically ill loved one, can be a tremendous source of stress and affect a caregiver’s well-being.
Research published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine in December 2019 showed that social support is a key moderating factor for resilience among caregivers. That support can be provided by family members and friends, as well as physicians and social workers.
Inspirational Quotes on Resilience
There are many ways to encourage resilience in people. Words of wisdom can be empowering.
Below are several quotes on different aspects of resilience, from finding inner strength to surviving life’s challenges:
"She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails."
— Elizabeth Edwards, author
"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
— Oliver Goldsmith
"Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and the responsibility to pick yourself up."
— Mary Holloway, resilience coach
“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo — far more flexible than you'd ever believe at first glance.”
— Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
“Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.”
— Kate DiCamillo, Louisiana’s Way Home
“Grief and resilience live together.”
— Michelle Obama, Becoming
“On the other side of a storm is the strength that comes from having navigated through it. Raise your sail and begin.”
— Gregory S. Williams, author
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
— Sheryl Sandberg, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
“Since our problems have been our own creation / They also can be overcome / When we use the power provided free to everyone / This is love”
— George Harrison, “This Is Love”
“Adversity has the remarkable ability of introducing the real you to yourself.”
— M.B. Dallocchio, The Desert Warrior
“Even the tiniest of flowers can have the toughest roots.”
— Shannon M. Mullen, See What Flowers
Resilience in Books, Movies, and TV Shows
Literature and pop culture provide reminders that resilience is common to the human condition. Here are some of the top reads, films, and shows about ways to build inner strength and stories of people who drew on their own resilience.
5 Top Books on Resilience
- Freedom From Anxious Thoughts and Feelings: A Two-Step Mindfulness Approach for Moving Beyond Fear and Worry, by Scott Symington, PhD
- Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan
- Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, by Rick Hanson, PhD
- Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience, by Allison Pataki
5 Top Movies, Documentaries, and TV Shows on Resilience
- Boy Erased
- The Florida Project
- He Named Me Malala
- When They See Us
Examples of Resilience
Celebrities Who Have Shown Resilience
- Randy Travis The country music superstar regained his voice and his life after suffering a massive stroke. Learn more about his struggles and hope for the future.
- J.K. Rowling The author was divorced, on government aid, and struggling to feed her family just three years before she sold the first Harry Potter book. The manuscript was rejected dozens of times before publisher Bloomsbury bought it. Now Rowling and her books are a global phenomenon.
- Emily Blunt As a child, the film actress (Mary Poppins Returns, A Quiet Place) struggled with a stutter that silenced her in the classroom and among her peers. But a teacher’s suggestion that she try out for a school play helped Blunt finally overcome her stutter.
- Sterling K. Brown The actor, whose uncle died from pancreatic cancer, set out to normalize the experience of cancer survivorship. Learn more about how he is putting a spotlight on life after cancer.
- Jennifer Hudson The singer’s mother, brother, and nephew were murdered by her sister’s estranged ex-husband. In the wake of the tragedy, Hudson worked through her pain by creating the Julian D. King Gift Foundation. Named after her late nephew, the charity provides support and positive experiences to help children from all backgrounds grow into productive and happy adults.
- Lionel Messi The soccer superstar was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at age 11. The medical costs were too much for his parents, but the sporting director of FC Barcelona heard about his plight and arranged a tryout. Messi made the team and earned the money to cover his treatments.
- Eminem In his youth, the hip-hop star witnessed domestic violence, was bullied, and endured a rocky relationship with his mother. He also had to overcome addiction troubles. But he was able to channel his resilience through his music.
- Rita Wilson An actress, singer, songwriter, and breast-cancer survivor, Rita Wilson and her husband, Tom Hanks, helped alert the world to the new threat of COVID-19 when they shared their diagnosis. The experience inspired Wilson to become a flu-shot advocate.
Other Stories of Resilience
Every day, people from all walks of life face health and personal challenges. Their stories of resilience offer hope and inspiration to others facing adversity.
- Cherie Binns The MS-certified nurse is helping others live better with the disease.
- Alisha Bridges Bridges wants others with psoriasis to know that they’re not alone.
- Howard Chang The Everyday Health blogger (“The Itch to Beat Psoriasis”) and his family have had to weather multiple health storms.
- April Christina A delayed endometriosis diagnosis helped April Christina find her voice.
- Sararosa Davies Despite her chronic illness, Davies is able to see the world from the safety of her bed through travel shows.
- Lydia Emily Painting helps this artist deal with the challenges of MS.
- Nicole Garcia After her dad's diagnosis with colon cancer, Garcia learned that she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene.
- Tori Geib For Geib, having metastatic cancer means living with the disease as well as she can.
- Sydney Heersink Sydney shares four lessons she learned about coping with a cancer diagnosis.
- Melissa Leeolou Leeolou found "the gift of resiliency" through dance.
- Tina Aswani Omprakash She has battled Crohn’s disease for over 13 years, and is helping raise awareness about the condition.
- Don Ray How one man beat the odds and has thrived for decades with type 1 diabetes.
- Nicole Schalmo A young actress wouldn’t let a shocking diagnosis deter her from her dreams.
- Dot Thompson A shift in mindset helped Dot lose 150 pounds on the keto diet.
Resources We Love
For more information on the importance of resilience, what you can do to build up resilience, and how to practice it in your life, visit the following resources.
This website brings together research, resources, and tools to improve resilience and well-being within the human rights community.
Compiled by the American Psychological Association, this resource helps people learn how to cope with difficult life situations, including trauma.
Mental Health Services
It can be difficult to know how and when to get help with feelings of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Reaching out for help is a good first step toward building resilience and improving your overall well-being.
If you are thinking about suicide or are worried about a loved one, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7 in the United States to assist you by connecting you with a trained crisis worker.
Available 24/7 in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the Crisis Text Line connects every user with a crisis counselor for confidential help on the spot.
It can be hard to know where to start when looking for a therapist. This find-a-therapist database helps you find support right in your zip code.
Young people need help learning to develop resilience in a stressful world. It isn’t as simple as telling them to try again — they need specific resources.
This is a curated list of resources to help parents and educators teach and support grit, resilience, and growth mindset.
LGBTQ+ Support and Resources Related to Bullying
Marginalized youth have a higher risk of bullying, violence, and suicide. There are resources out there to help all youth know that they are not alone.
Born This Way supports the wellness of young people using evidence-based programs that are kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive.
The Trevor Project provides support and resources for LGBTQ+ youth, including a 24/7 crisis line with trained counselors on call.
All kids involved in bullying (victims, bullies, witnesses) are affected by it. StopBullying.gov compiles resources to help parents, schools, and communities reduce bullying.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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