What is Emotional Resilience – And Can You Develop It?

Emotional resilience allows you to manage stress more effectively and stay calm in a crisis. It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone, but it can be developed. Learning to adapt to diversity is a trait well worth cultivating – the ability to manage minor issues helps to strengthen your resolve when faced with more serious problems.

While some people are naturally resilient, others are more sensitive to life’s challenges and have to work on overcoming them.

What Makes Us Emotionally Resilient?

Your personality plays a key role in how you cope with stress (1). People with a greater level of psychological resilience tend to share characteristics such as:

  • Emotional awareness – understanding what they’re feeling and why.
  • Perseverance – continuing to work toward a goal despite obstacles.
  • Optimism – seeing the positive side of apparently negative situations.
  • Sense of humor – being able to laugh at the difficulties of life.
  • Fostering support – from family and friends.

But if you lack the natural psychological characteristics behind emotional resilience, is it possible to change your personality?

How To Strengthen Your Emotional Resilience?

Sigmund Freud suggested that personality was fundamentally fixed from an early age, and many modern psychologists believe it stays that way throughout your life.

While making sweeping, lasting changes to broad personality traits can be extremely difficult, it may be possible to change behavior patterns that underpin them (2).

Stress is an inherent part of life, particularly in the modern, hectic world and in troubling and difficult times such as the coronavirus crisis. However, this means there are always opportunities to practice emotional resilience.

For example, you can help to fortify your emotional strength by:

  • Taking care of yourself – looking after your mind and body by eating healthily and staying active.
  • Making lifestyle changes – practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques and develop and maintain interests and hobbies.
  • Bearing in mind that no one’s perfect – while rewarding yourself for the things you do accomplish.
  • Making connections with others – by joining local community groups, for instance.

Importance of Building Emotional Resilience

When we face difficult times that seem to be going from bad to worse, it can be easy to slip into a downward spiral of confusion and self-doubt that weakens our emotional resourcefulness.

Resilience is crucial to maintain emotional stability and handle experiences that would otherwise be overwhelming – leading to potentially serious issues like anxiety and/or depression.

Besides preventing mental health issues, maintaining emotional strength in the face of adversity can help you to:

  • Reduce your risk of developing harmful habits such as smoking, heavy drinking, or reliance on drugs.
  • Enhance your capabilities to learn new things.
  • Achieve a greater level of overall wellness.
  • Be more active in family and community activities.

Professional Help to Improve Your Emotional Resilience

It’s important to remember you’re not alone if your emotional resilience is found wanting. With the support of loved ones, steps you can take yourself can go a long way toward combating stress and anxiety.

However, you may need professional help with your emotional resilience if you’re struggling to function and having problems with basic activities of daily life.

Signs you may need professional help

Symptoms that may require professional attention include:

  • Persistent irritability or unhappiness.
  • Extreme mood swings.
  • Irrational concerns or fears.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Significant eating or sleeping problems.

Resilience-building techniques

Techniques used by mental health professionals to help people build emotional resilience include:

  • Talk therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) – talking through negative feelings helps to ease stress and anxiety.
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) – a relatively new psychotherapy technique.
  • Visualization – using mental imagery to relax.
  • Hypnosis – a state of deep relaxation that helps to minimize the physical impact of stress.
  • Biofeedback – to measure your physical responses to stress.

Emotional Resilience in Singapore

Emotional resilience hit the headlines in Singapore when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong emphasized its central role in the country’s internationally-acclaimed response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (3)

The emotional strength of Singaporeans has also been highlighted by the American Psychological Association (APA), which says psychological resilience is embedded within our culture.

Sue Anne Han gave an insightful webinar on Emotional Resilience

Bankers in Singapore have also been taking a proactive stance on psychological strength.

The Banking and Financial Services Union (BFSU) – formerly the Bank Officers’ Association – held a Zoom webinar with Sue Anne Han, a psychologist in Singapore. The principal consultant psychologist at our Adelphi Psych Medicine mental health clinic in Singapore gave an insight into the need for emotional resilience during the pandemic.

She described emotional resilience as a mindset and skill and compared it to a marital art in which you learn to protect yourself while knowing how to fall so you don’t get hurt.

Nelson Mandela put it another way: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Ms Han spoke about:

  • How stress can be channeled to nurture learning and growth.
  • The dangers of ignoring early warning signs of anxiety.
  • The importance of balancing work and family wellness.
  • The need to adapt to ongoing uncertainties.

Research Into Emotional Resilience of Youths

Even before the coronavirus emergency, psychiatrists in Singapore had embarked on a major study on levels of emotional resilience among young people.

The research is aimed at shedding light on the prevalence of issues such as depression in Singapore among 10- to 18-year-olds and the extent of the problem of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

We Can All Achieve Emotional Resilience

General mental health in Singapore appears to be more robust compared with other high-income countries but we have a high rate of serious depressive disorders – which indicates room for improvement in emotional resilience.

We’ve all had our emotional resourcefulness tested, and sometimes stress-related issues may seem insurmountable – especially in times of national crisis like the COVID-19 onslaught.

However, it’s possible to take steps to develop emotional resilience, and it’s something we can all achieve.

Resilience not only enables you to bounce back but also strengthens your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, while maintaining stability in your mental health.

Looking after yourself and having support from family and friends can help you deal with pressure and take some of the anxiety out of stressful situations.

And our professional psychiatrists and psychotherapists are always available if you feel you can’t cope on your own.


  1. Emma Childs, Tara White, Harrieta de Wit. PersonalityTraitsModulate Emotional and Physiological Responses to Stress. Behavioral Pharmacology. September 2014
  2. Kendra Cherry. Attitudes and Behavior in Psychology. Verywell Mind: Updated May 2020.
  3. CNA. Social and Psychological Resilience Differentiates Singapore in COVID-19 Crisis: PM Lee. March 2020.