Road to resilience

by Judith Coulson-Geissmann

The American Psychological Association (2014) defines resilience as 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. In other words, “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

Build and improve resilience

Your level of mental resilience is not in your DNA  – your level of resilience is the sum of your experiences, choices and environment. The good news is that you can decide to improve your resilience at any time. Let’s have a look at some strategies and techniques used to improve mental resilience.

Rob Whitley, PhD (2018), suggests three resilience-enhancing strategies:

  1. Skill acquisition

Acquiring new skills can play an important part in building resilience, as it helps to develop a sense of mastery and competency, which you can utilise during challenging times, as well as increase one’s self-esteem and ability to solve problems.

Skills to be learned will depend on the individual. For example, some might benefit from improving cognitive skills such as working memory or selective attention, which will help with everyday functioning. Others might benefit from learning new hobbies activities through competency-based learning.

Acquiring new skills within a group setting gives the added benefit of social support, which also cultivates resilience.

  1. Goal setting

The ability to develop goals, actionable steps to achieve those goals, and to execute, all help to develop willpower and mental resilience. Goals can be large or small, related to physical health, emotional wellbeing, career, finance, spirituality, or just about anything. Goals which involve skill-acquisition will have a double benefit. For example, learning to play an instrument or learning a new language. Some research indicates that setting and working towards goals beyond the individual, i.e. religious involvement or volunteering for a cause, can be especially useful in building resiliency. This may provide a deeper sense of purpose and connection, which can be valuable during challenging times.


  1. Controlled exposure

Controlled exposure refers to the gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations, and is used to help individuals overcome their fears. Research indicates that this can foster resilience, and especially so when it involves skill-acquisition and goal setting — a triple benefit.

Public speaking, for example, is a useful life skill but also something that evokes fear in many people. People who are afraid of public speaking can set goals involving controlled exposure, to develop or acquire this particular skill. They can expose themselves to a small audience of one or two people, and progressively increase their audience size over time.

This type of action plan can be initiated by the individual, or it can be developed with a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Successful efforts can increase self-esteem and a sense of autonomy and mastery, all of which can be utilised in times of adversity.

Some strategies to build resilience:
  1. Make connections

Resilience can be strengthened through our connection to family, friends, and community. Healthy relationships with people who care about you and will listen to your problems, offer support during difficult times and can help us to reclaim hope. Likewise, assisting others in their time of need can benefit us greatly and foster our sense of resilience. If you don’t have family around you, any occasion to socialise with likeminded, like a hobby group, can help increase resilience. Avoid too many nights out drinking, as a lack of sleep and increased alcohol consumption will have the opposite effect in the long run.

  1. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems

We cannot change the external events happening around us, but we can control our reaction to these events. In life, there will always be challenges, but it’s important to look beyond whatever stressful situation you are faced with and remember that circumstances will change. Take notice of all the small things that go right in your life even during a crisis.


  1. Accept that change is a part of living

They say that the only thing constant in life is change. As a result of difficult circumstances, certain goals may no longer be realistic or attainable. By accepting that which you cannot change, it allows you to focus on the things that you do have control over. Take notice of all the things you can control.

  1. Move toward your goals

Though it is important to develop long-term, big-picture goals, it is essential to make sure they’re realistic. Creating small, actionable steps makes our goals achievable, and helps us to regularly work towards these goals, creating small “wins” along the way. Try to accomplish one small step towards your goal every day. Take notice of all the things you did accomplish every day

  1. Take decisive actions

Instead of shying away from problems and stressors, wishing they would go away, try to take decisive action whenever possible. Take notice of all the challenges you did face (big or small)

  1. Look for opportunities for self-discovery

Sometimes tragedy can result in great learnings and personal growth. Living through a difficult situation can increase our self-confidence and sense of self-worth, strengthen our relationships, and teach us a great deal about ourselves. Many people who have experienced hardship have also reported a heightened appreciation for life and deepened spirituality. Take notice of what you have learned or positively experienced from a tragic event. (Example: a loved one died what is sad and emotionally draining, but at the same time you have received an overwhelming amount of support from friends and family making it clear that you are loved and people care about you.)

  1. Nurture a positive view of yourself

Working to develop confidence in yourself can be beneficial in preventing difficulties, as well as building resilience. Having a positive view of yourself is crucial when it comes to problem-solving and trusting your instincts. Take notice of all the small things you do to add value to others, your skills, talents and knowledge you add.


  1. Keep things in perspective

When times get tough, always remember that things could be worse; try to avoid blowing things out of proportion. In cultivating resilience, it helps to keep a long-term perspective when facing difficult or painful events. Try to imagine how you will feel about this event in 12 months? Will it still matter and if so how much?

  1. Maintain a hopeful outlook

When we focus on what is negative about a situation and remain in a fearful state, we are less likely to find a solution. Try to maintain a hopeful, optimistic outlook, and expect a positive outcome instead of a negative one. Visualisation can be a helpful technique in this respect. Visualise the best possible outcome and how this will make you feel when accomplished.

  1. Take care of yourself

Self-care is an essential strategy for building resilience and helps to keep your mind and body healthy enough to deal with difficult situations as they arise. Taking care of yourself means paying attention to your own needs and feelings and engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.

Some regular physical exercise and healthy eating habits are great forms of self-care and increase your energy.

Resilience building can look like different to different people. If you would like to get some assistance in finding your unique way to increase and build resilience, contact [email protected] for an online or offline coaching session and mention Expat Life in Thailand.

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