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1 month to mental strength: What is resilience and how do I build it?

Leanne Hall
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Building resilience is vital for good mental health

Close up of a man with curly hair and a beard laughing

Life will always come with challenges, whether it’s related to family, health, friendships or work – and we all deal with these challenges in our own way. The quality that helps us deal with life’s ups and downs is called resilience, and it’s a major part of mental wellbeing.

Experts say building resilience can enhance our relationships, help us navigate life changes, approach new situations with confidence and improve our mental health.

So what exactly is resilience and how can we build it? We spoke to Leanne Hall, a psychologist and therapist with more than two decades of experience under her belt, to find out.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the inner strength that helps you bounce back from setbacks such as illness, break-ups and job loss, rather than becoming overwhelmed or turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Instead of trying to prevent negative or stressful events, building resilience helps reduce the level of disruption and length of time these challenges have on your life.

The good news is that resilience isn’t something you’re either born with or not – you can develop resilience throughout your life.

Leanne explains that building resilience is vital for good mental health.
“Resilience is a key factor in preventing more serious mental health issues, as well as an important part of recovery,” she says.

“Resilience can also help protect us against developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and can offset risk factors such as bullying or family history. This means that someone who has resilient characteristics is more likely to cope better with adversity.”

A woman standing in front of an old red brick wall smiles as she looks to the side

7 ways to build mental toughness and resilience

1. Build your self-esteem

Leanne says that building resilience often goes hand in hand with self-efficacy – your belief in yourself. So it’s vital that you avoid negative self-talk and practise positive self-talk regularly to help boost resilience.

2. Strengthen relationships

Knowing you have a strong support network in good times and bad is an important aspect of resilience. “Work on your communication – and invest in important relationships,” advises Leanne.

3. Set realistic and measurable goals

“A sense of achievement is important and a key factor in building self-efficacy,” she says, adding: “Unrealistic goals end up making you feel like a failure.”

4. Develop good boundaries

“Learn to say ‘no’, and recognise that your needs are just as important as everyone else’s.”

5. Learn from experience

Reflect on how you’ve coped with setbacks in the past in order to identify positive and negative behaviour patterns.

6. Have a positive mindset

Practising mindfulness can help you deal with negative thoughts and emotions when they arise, and cope better with difficulties. “Know that all emotions are valid – and it’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed, upset, anxious or angry sometimes,” Leanne says.

7. Be proactive about dealing with problems

Instead of ignoring problems, figure out what needs to be done and take action – and if you need support, ask for it. “Reaching out and asking for help is a sign of resilience, not a sign of weakness,” says Leanne.

Related: Mental health vs mental illness

One-month resilience training program

Ready to strengthen your resilience? Leanne has put together a training program to help us apply resilience strategies into our lives.

An infographic showing a 30-day resilience training guide

National helplines

If you have an urgent need for help with your mental health, contact one of the helplines below.

  • Lifeline (24 hours): 13 11 14

  • Kids Helpline (24 hours): 1800 55 1800

  • MensLine Australia (24 hours): 1300 78 99 78

  • SANE Helpline (mental illness information, support and referral): 1800 18 7263

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Leanne Hall

Leanne Hall is an integrative psychologist with additional qualifications in health and fitness and an impressive career as a therapist and health coach spanning more than 20 years. She’s the author of Head First Health Fast, The Smart Approach To Outwitting Body Issues and Sustaining Achievable Health and is currently completing her PhD in Ultra Running. Leanne is passionate about debunking the myth of 'balance' and keeps it real in everything she does. Something not many people know is that Leanne can mimic bird noises very well...