A woman looking up toward the sky in a hopeful stance

Boost Your Ability to Bounce Back

By KJ Foster
May 05, 2023

We'd all like to be better able to recover from disappointments and quickly put every setback in our rearview mirror. This ability to take every obstacle in stride is called resilience. Essentially, it's the ability to bounce back from negative thoughts, emotions, and experiences. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad to have negative thoughts, to feel emotions like anger and resentment, or to experience suffering. These are all part of the human experience.

What it does mean is that we’re able to quickly identify these negative states as detrimental to our overall health and well‑being, and then respond by taking the appropriate action to process and move through them.

When we're not resilient, we can get overwhelmed by or stuck in our thoughts, emotions, and negative experiences. We obsess, ruminate, and hold grudges against others or even ourselves. We often become our own worst critic. We are also more likely to act out in unhealthy ways, such as overindulging in alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, negative emotions, sex, or other habits that can become destructive.

Even if you're not engaging in any of these harmful behaviors, becoming more resilient and better able to move through your setbacks will certainly improve your overall health and well‑being. Resilience may also help protect you from other mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

While some people are genetically predisposed to be more resilient, resilience can also be impacted by negative early life experiences. The good news is that resilience can be learned and strengthened.

Here are nine steps you can take to become more resilient:


Meditation literally changes the brain by strengthening the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for regulating the interaction between our emotions and thoughts. It’s one of the single most powerful tools to building resilience.

Exercise Self-Compassion

According to research by Kristin Neff, Ph.D., there are three components of self-compassion: loving kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Start to look for ways to be more compassionate toward yourself. I suggest starting with becoming mindful of your self-talk. Are you critical and judgmental or loving and kind? If the former rings truer for you, start to make a shift to being kinder and gentler with yourself.

Reach Out for Support

Connecting with others, sharing your struggles, and gaining empathy, feedback, and support will provide you with more strength. Studies show that too much isolation breeds anxiety and depression.

Identify a Mentor

Identifying someone you admire, who epitomizes resilience, and then modeling your behavior after what they do is one of the best ways to practice resilience or achieve success with any new skill or goal.

Start a Mood Journal

Journaling is an effective way to process emotions and release stress. Taking it one step further and writing a letter to yourself, providing support and advice as a compassionate friend, will help you even more.

Take Care with Diet and Exercise

This doesn't have to be difficult or strenuous, especially if you’re not used to exercising. It can be as simple as taking a 20-minute walk. The goal is to increase your heart rate to achieve the benefits of the endorphin release that occurs in the brain. Exercise is also a natural antidepressant. Always consult your physician before starting any new exercise program.

And since what you put in your body can have a big impact on your ability to build mental and emotional resilience, eating a healthy diet that includes the recommended five daily servings of fresh vegetables and fruit is key.

Get Proper Sleep

This is an area that is a struggle for many, whether due to insomnia or disturbed sleep, but there are things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. These include going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, keeping the bedroom thermostat set between 60 and 65 degrees, and limiting your device usage and media exposure prior to bed.

Practice Gratitude

Identifying and focusing on what you are grateful for in your life is one of the most powerful ways to build resilience. Take time each day to make a list of five things you’re grateful for in your life and make this a daily practice.

Start Small

Like building any new muscle, developing resilience is best done slowly and steadily as you build upon your strength as you practice. Taking on too much at one time is a quick way to become overwhelmed by the process.

Resilience won’t make your problems go away, but it may help you get through them more quickly and minimize the amount of stress you experience. Becoming more resilient doesn’t happen overnight. Like with any new skill, it will take time and practice. Be gentle with yourself and celebrate your progress along the way.

KJ Foster, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and YouTube creator who specializes in working with individuals and family members who are impacted by substance use issues. Her latest book is titled Fostering Resilience for the Family in Recovery: A Guide to Helping You and Your Loved One Get Out of the Swamp of Substance Abuse and Addiction.

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