What is resilience and how can you practise it?

You might have heard the word resilience thrown about a lot recently. In the news, all over your socials, from Dan Andrews at 11am every day… but what is it really? Why is it so important during this pandemic?

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to successfully navigate through, or overcome, adversity or challenging situations in life.

Resilience is a learned skill, it’s not something you are born with.

Everyone has great potential for resilience, but it can take nurturing and practice to develop and strengthen. A person’s level of resilience can fluctuate as they adjust to the pressures and challenges they are faced with day to day. This is why it is important to think about what strategies and characteristics can be helpful to nurture to help build our resilience. Just as importantly we must be conscious of when we are needing to take a step back to replenish ourselves when we need to. Remember “it is ok to not be ok” and when we feel this way there are things we can do to help improve how we are feeling – more on this later.

How can it help during the pandemic?

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented changes to our lives and impacted adversely on the mental health of many people. This certainly is a challenging time for many of us, and a good time to take note of how resilience can help us navigate such times.

There are many common characteristics of resilient people and the strategies they use. If we can learn to develop these things in ourselves, it will help us feel more equipped mentally to deal with challenges that come our way.

Characteristics of resilient people

These common characteristics are:

  1. They are mindful and aware – Being mindful and aware of your emotions and emotional responses to situations. Being more present and “in the moment” can help you to feel calmer and less reactive.
  2. They can reflect and learn – It is helpful to take time out to reflect on your thoughts, actions and feelings associated with certain situations. Developing insight can help you identify when and where it might be helpful to make adjustments to improve how you respond to certain situations.
  3. They are empathetic – Being empathetic is the ability to observe and read and share the emotions of others, and act appropriately to what they might need.
  4. They are grateful – Being grateful means being to focus and appreciate what you have, rather than thinking about what you don’t have.
  5. They can ask for help – Resilient people know who their support systems are and how to ask them for help when they need it.

Practical strategies you can practise today to start practising resilience

The Resilience Project

There are many tools and resources to help you become familiar with resilience and while researching resilience, one of my favourite resources I found was a book called The Resilience Project by Hugh van Cuylenburg. An Aussie guy who went to a remote Indian village to teach English in his early 20’s and discovered that these people, who had almost nothing to their names, were some of the happiest people in the world. He studied the school children and village to discover that they practised certain things each day that made them happy and resilient.
The principles I am going to list below are based on Hugh’s principle of GEM; gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. I add the theme of connection as another important resilience tool to practise to become a more resilient and happier person.

I highly recommend The Resilience Project book and resources to look at for more information; it’s an easy read and fabulous story about his life and interactions and resilience.


“Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t.”

We are so often seduced by the negatives rather than the positives we have or experience in life. Instead of thinking in an if and then mindset – ‘if I have this, then I will be happy’ – start looking at what you already have. The science says that practicing gratitude daily (until it becomes more natural) can re-train your brain to start looking for the positives in life, rather than the negatives.


Write down:
• 3 things you are grateful for
• 1 thing you are looking forward to about tomorrow

Do this for 21 days in a row and see how you feel at the end of it.


“The ability to understand others; feel what they are feeling, see things from their point of view and imagine yourself in their place.”

When we empathise with others, we see things from their perspective. Doing this allows us to act compassionately, allows us to build deep connections with others and helps build our own emotional intelligence. Importantly, helping others make us feel good by releasing oxytocin (a chemical that makes us feel happy) in our brains.


Think about someone you know who might be having a hard time right now. Maybe it is yourself. What would you say to them to make them feel better? Can you connect with that person now to check-in with them?


“The ability to be present and engaged in whatever you are doing in that moment.”

Being mindful is about being aware of your thoughts, feelings, your movement, your body, your surroundings, and the idea is to let all of these things come and go gently, without judgement and with acceptance. The more you do this the more you will come to understand these thoughts, feelings and emotions and how they influence each other. It has numerous benefits such as decreasing stress levels, increased focus and can help you improve your mood and also how you interact with the world.

Meditation is one way to practise mindfulness, and there are many apps and online guides you can use to start your practise, but you can also be mindful just by going on a walk and noticing your surroundings, or just sitting quietly in a comfy spot. It’s about bringing your focus to the ‘now’.


Take three deep breathes. Write down:

  • 1 thing you can smell
  • 2 things you can feel
  • 3 things you can see


“Having positive social relationships and supportive environments are key to being resilient.”

Brene Brown defines connection as: “The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued”. The science around having strong social relationships is huge but essentially having someone you can turn to or even who you know is there for you, has strong physiological impacts on our minds and bodies, lowering stress reactions and regulating hormones. Feeling connected to others also helps combat loneliness and isolation, which is especially important during the current pandemic and lockdown.


Have a think about 3 people you can talk to when things get tough. If you don’t have someone you can talk to, how can you change this? Professional help is always available.

Alternatively, think about someone close to you that you haven’t spoken to in while. Give them a call and see if they’re doing ok?

Wellbeing Service

Internal Resources

  • Have an appointment with La Trobe’s Counselling Team via telephone or video (Zoom).
  • Not sure what sort of wellbeing support you need? Fill in this form to request a callback from our Wellbeing team.
  • Use our La Trobe University Crisis Line for Out-of-Hours Mental Health and Wellbeing Support.
  • Phone 1300 146 307 or text 0488 884 100. This service operates 5pm-9am on weekdays and 24 hours during weekends and public holidays.

External Resources

  • Lifeline – For anyone experiencing a personal crisis, 24 hours a day 13 11 14.
  • Beyond Blue – The government has created a new Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service which offers further Wellbeing services and resources
  • Headspace – Check out their COVID-19 resource on coping with stress related to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Switchboard – for LGBTIQA+ specific support and referral
  • The Resilience Project