In therapy: building resilience

Our resident columnist, psychotherapist Jess Henley, PGDip., MA, on how to bolster mental strength to help you cope with whatever lies ahead

So, what is it?

It would be amazing if the past year hadn’t had any impact on your mental health, what with restrictions, uncertainty, bad news and living on tenterhooks. But building emotional resilience can help you learn to adapt to your ever-changing circumstances and give you the strength to bounce back more quickly, while keeping a stable state of mind.


Breathing correctly can help you feel more balanced, grounded and able to cope – instantly and in the long term. I’ve said this before, but breathing plays such an important role in keeping your feelings manageable. Imagine a space that’s two inches below your belly button and a third of the way into your body – now breathe into this space. With each inhale, imagine a golden light is travelling to this exact spot. Make each inhale last 4 seconds, hold for 1 second, then exhale for 4 seconds. Do this as much as you need to until you feel more stable.

Create a support squad

Sharing your feelings and thoughts with others can help normalise them and release some of the burden. Choose someone you feel safe with and schedule a time to chat to them. If sharing your feelings doesn’t come easily, write them down first to encourage yourself not to back out of talking. Set up the phone call in advance, saying you need to chat, so the person you’re sharing with is prepared and ready to be supportive. Practise your deep breathing before you call, to help give you the strength to speak up.

Find a safe space to feel

If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, including the difficult ones, they can end up overwhelming and debilitating us. Find a space where you feel safe – it could be your bedroom, in the bath, your favourite outdoor place – and allow yourself an allocated amount of time to let your feelings out. By this, I mean let yourself really connect with your feelings and give them the airtime in your head that they deserve – feelings are meant to be felt, after all. Once you’ve released the pent-up energy of those feelings, they won’t be stuck inside you, and you should feel lighter and freer.

See the positive

It’s also important to see the silver linings. What have been the positives of the past 12 months? It may feel like they are few and far between, but by bringing in some upbeat energy, you’re allowing space for more to grow. And it can help you feel more at peace with the difficult times. Start a list of positive outcomes from last year and keep it where you can see it. Then, every time you think of something, no matter how small (for example, ‘I discovered a new type of cheese I like’!), add it to the list. You can use it to help lift your emotions when you’re having a tough day.

If your thoughts are spiralling out of control and you feel excessively anxious or depressed, talk to your GP. Alternatively, call the free Mind Infoline, on 0300 123 3393 (open 9am to 6pm, weekdays, except for bank holidays), or the free Samaritans helpline, on 116 123 (open 24/7).