After a truly tumultuous year, devastating for some, all of us have had to cope in ways we would never have previously anticipated. We asked neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist Dr Lynda Shaw what resilience is, why it is so important and how best to develop resilience in 2021.

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. Resilience has a lot to do with ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences stronger than before, developing personal growth through experiences and self-discovery, thus building resilience for any future setbacks.

Eustress and resilience

We know that eustress is a good type of stress that helps us grow and be more creative, it motivates us to meet deadlines, come up with new ideas and we need many of those at the moment. Eustress also makes us more agile and means we can learn to react well in challenging circumstances which may make us more resilient. Eustress is quite different to distress.

Can we build resilience or are you born with it?

Some people are probably naturally born with more resilience than others, perhaps they have inherited an innate ability to cope from a parent. Or perhaps it was developed from early life experiences like many other personality traits. Still, every human is capable of resilience, through new behaviours, thoughts and actions that we can all learn and develop, but some may find it harder than others. Just like building up your muscles, building resilience takes time and intention. Rather than letting failure define their future, people with the most resilience find a way to emotionally heal and move forward from trauma.  Resilience is built on life experiences, making it a quality that is in constant development.

What helps us be resilient?

Some of the factors that are associated with resilience include positivity, optimism and efficiency in regulating emotions. For example, optimism has shown to diminish the impact of stress on the mind and body even during distressing experiences. This allows for a level-headed analysis of the situation leading to more rational decisions which will most likely benefit the individual.

Accepting change, keeping things in perspective by not catastrophizing, taking time to reflect, breaking negative thought patterns, showing gratitude and learning from the past are some ways you can learn to develop resilience and continue pursuing goals regardless of challenges.

Anticipation of reward for your tenacity will activate the brain’s reward circuitry, which involves the neurotransmitter Dopamine.  This reward-seeking chemical will motivate you to keep going and be even more resilient and ensure you feel great with each achievement.


Resilience is particularly pertinent for businesses right now because of the shock and traumas of Covid-19. The pandemic has highlighted how quickly things can change, so keeping on top of what we can and being prepared for a few possible outcomes is vital. You cannot control everything that happens so it is important to identify what you can and cannot do. In business how you respond to tough situations will speak volumes about you as a leader.

  1. Have a plan – Account for important issues which could arise in the future and create a plan, or even a couple of different plans for different possible outcomes. Careful planning, time management and organisation are key for improving your capacity to recover from difficulties.
  2. Take your time – Everything does not need to be done at once. Avoid rushing big decisions if you can, prioritise the issues which need to be acted upon first, take your time to get it right and monitor your decisions carefully. This will ensure that you are achieving the best possible outcomes.
  3. Be positive – Research shows that those who face adversity with a positive mindset deal with stress and problems better and have better health outcomes in the long term. Use positive language, re-examine negative situations and find a workable solution.
  4. Play to your strengths – Be aware of your team’s strengths and use them to your advantage. This helps to boost confidence and self-esteem. Unrealistic targets reduce productivity and leads to frustration. Consider seeking specialist advice in the areas you struggle with to stop business stagnation.
  5. Find new challenges – Change can catch you off guard. Being resilient means picking yourself up and brushing yourself off when you’ve been knocked down. Without challenges we may miss opportunities to develop and better ourselves and our businesses.
  6. Healthy lifestyle – Encourage your employees to have a healthy lifestyle and lead by example including regular physical exercise, a good sleeping pattern, low stress and a healthy diet. For example, a lack of quality sleep can lead to poor judgement, which will affect general performance and can cause weakened emotional mental well-being which will affect your ability to be resilient.
  7. Establish a mentoring environment – Team spirit is a great asset and a powerful form of resilience. Encourage your colleagues to nurture and inspire other team members so that you can share experiences and guide each other. We can all benefit from being both a mentee and mentor.
  8. Encourage career development – Employees usually want to both learn and play a part in growing a successful business, which will in turn build both personal and team resilience. Learning and development is a win-win situation for the company and for the employees and gives us more tools to face setbacks or issues.