Bouncing Back from Bad Times: 9 Ways to Build Resilience
The ability to recover from hard times can be learned. Find out more about how to become resilient.

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How do you respond when something bad happens?

  1. Curse your fate and complain, complain, complain.
  2. Hide in your room with a box of tissues.
  3. Assess the situation and move on.

If you picked C, you are resilient.

Resilience is the ability to cope with hard times, trauma and stress. It doesn't mean you won't feel sad or hurt when bad things happen. It means that when life drops you in a hole, you find a way to climb out.

Some people don't seem to be resilient. They may struggle to cope when faced with illness and trauma. But resilience is not the rare gift of the few. Ordinary people of all ages have it. And those who don't have it can learn it.

Traits of resilient people
People who are resilient tend to have a positive outlook. They take control of their own lives. When tragedy strikes, they are able to stay balanced and work their way through the setbacks. Their attitudes may help protect them from depression and other mental health problems.

People who are resilient share some important traits. They:

  • Have a network of caring and supportive people in their lives.
  • Are able to make plans and carry them out.
  • Feel good about themselves and are confident of their abilities.
  • Can communicate and solve problems.
  • Are able to handle impulses and strong feelings.
  • Are able to learn from life experiences and apply those coping skills in their lives.

If you don't have all these traits now, don't worry. They can be developed.

Nine ways to become more resilient
There is no one right way to build resiliency. Different people take different approaches. It may help to think about which traits need more work. Focus on making those stronger.

Here are some ideas that can help you become more resilient:

  1. Build connections. Having strong relationships is the most important factor in resiliency. Know who you can turn to when you need help or advice. Sometimes it will be family members or friends. Or it might be people you meet at a support group or in your faith community.
  2. Take care of yourself mentally, physically and spiritually. Do things you enjoy that help you relax. Eat well, sleep enough and get some exercise. Make sure you're up to date with your health care — periodic screenings and immunizations, as well as taking care of chronic conditions, if you live with any.
  3. Take action. Ask yourself: What can I do to improve this situation? Then do it. This can help you regain a sense of control.
  4. Be goal-oriented. Set some goals you can achieve, and make progress toward them, even if they're small steps.
  5. Go with the flow. Things always change — sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. Focus on changes you can control.
  6. Look beyond the moment. During bad times, remind yourself that you will get through this, and in time things will improve. Try to focus on the big picture.
  7. Look on the bright side. Try to cultivate a positive attitude. Instead of focusing on what's wrong, turn your attention to what's right.
  8. Practice positive self-talk. Give yourself credit for the good things you do. Build trust in your own abilities. We truly are how we think.
  9. Learn from experience. Remember how you and others have dealt with past problems. Think about what you did and how you can apply the lessons you learned to what's happening now.

Emily A. King contributed to this report.

By Lila Havens, Contributing Writer
Created on 03/05/2009
Updated on 11/28/2012
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Why do some people get PTSD and other people do not?
  • American Psychological Association. The road to resilience.
  • Improving emotional health.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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