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Emotional resilience and bouncing back from adversity

Top 10 tips

Dr Aw headshot in a circle

Update from Dr. Aw

May 7, 2021
Reading time: 5 minutes

Illustration of individual pushing blocks to show resilience in emotional wellbeing

Throughout the month of May, countries and organizations around the world will be shining the spotlight on mental health, however, far too often we become solely focused on clinical diagnosis when discussing this topic. At OMERS, we are shifting the conversation to focus on emotional wellbeing, a broader term that allows us to discuss a wide range of topics that contribute to how we all feel.

Today I am going to focus on the importance of resilience. Dealing with this pandemic has been a marathon on our physical, mental and emotional well-being. I’ve been listening to patients and colleagues in my medical practice go through a rollercoaster of ups and downs dealing with the uncertainty, anxiety, stress, COVID burnout.

What is resilience?

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” — Nelson Mandela

I’ve noticed resiliency is an attribute recognizable when individuals display the following characteristics or behaviours:

  • Exuding highly positive emotions.

  • Acceptance or non-reactivity to stressors.

  • Connectedness or high social support.

  • Establishing healthy daily routines and good habits.

  • A sense of control.

  • A gratitude mindset.

It seems that the most important factor in resiliency is having strong and supportive relationships within and outside the family. According to the American Psychological Association the other factors that are associated with resiliency include:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.

  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.

  • Skills in communication and problem solving.

  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

How do we develop our emotional resilience?

Studies have looked at the emotional response to failure as a factor that can help improve resilience. High emotional resilience was associated with higher self-esteem, positive attributional style (optimistic view) and lower sense of perfectionism. Perfectionism can fuel a sense of always being too hard on yourself and setting unrealistic expectations in a complex changing world. It’s OK — and liberating — to not be perfect!

Emotional resilience is also linked to having a clear sense of purpose and meaning in your life. The Japanese have a saying called “IKIGAI” which is daily reminder of one’s reason for being and why we get out of bed in the morning. A clear sense of purpose can fuel optimism!

Learn from these tips

I encourage you to check out the tips the American Psychological Association posted on 10 Ways to Build Resilience:

  1. Make connections.

  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.

  3. Accept that change is a part of living.

  4. Move toward your goals.

  5. Take decisive actions.

  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery.

  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself.

  8. Keep things in perspective.

  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook.

  10. Take care of yourself.

Emotional resilience is a personal journey and iterative process of trying, failing, adapting and evolving. Life’s experiences — happy and sad — teach us how to cope with adversity in our own personal way. Winston Churchill famously said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”


  1. Fredrickson BL. The Broaden-and-Build theory of positive emotions. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2004;359(1449):1367-1378. doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1512PubMedGoogleScholarCrossref

  2. Masten AS. Ordinary magic: resilience processes in development. Am Psychol. 2001;56(3):227-238. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.227PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

  3. Exploration of Individual and System-Level Well-being Initiatives at an Academic Surgical Residency Program A Mixed-Methods Study

  4. Personal and work-related factors associated with nurse resilience: A systematic review

  5. Resilience to emotional distress in response to failure, error or mistakes: A systematic review

  6. American Psychology Association. Resilience curing the COVID-19 Pandemic. 10 Ways to Build Resilience.

  7. Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers.

  8. Emotional Resilience Self Assessment

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