Every situation, that each person is faced with be it a job loss, death, illness or a marital issue, affects one’s psychological / cognitive functions.

Everyone responds and adapts differently when it comes to coping with stressors. One can be resilience at work but not at home or in dealing with personal problems. Some people cope with stressful experiences better than others, while others recover more quickly than others. Within this concept of cognitive resilience, people with the ability to cope have a healthy, sound and balanced control over their cognitive system. This helps them to adapt positively.

Cognitive resilience is a protective element which alters a person’s response to difficulties, challenges and threats in their environment, to adaptable ones, (Rutter, 1987). It is the ability to positively adapt to a context of adversity.

How to develop cognitive resilience when dealing with depression.

Every situation requires a different type of cognitive resilience. Because each person is different, the learning and development of cognitive resilience becomes a personal process. Some people are born with the natural ability to control their cognitive functions positively for example those with the ability to think clearly even when they are under a lot of stress (natural cognitive resilience). Others learn cognitive resilience due to difficult and challenging experiences in life while, for example a person who experienced a very difficult relationship would have learnt to manage his or her thought processes in line with relationships (adaptive cognitive resilience). Adaptive cognitive resilience can be dangerous in that too much exposure to traumatic experiences can change “resilience” into “resistance”. This means that you can become like a “panic button”, always on “high alert” when it comes to traumatic experiences.

Sometimes a person might have both natural and adaptive resilience, but is still unable to cope with difficult circumstances. Cognitive resilience can be learnt. It involves developing those cognitive functions that enable recovery from stressful circumstances and depression. It is the ability to control the mind and mental processes and manage targeted mental behaviour versus one’s usual tendencies.

Elements of low cognitive resilience include a demoralized state of mind, thoughts of hopelessness, disconnected thought process, the inability to focus, think clearly and make decision, a stressed and tired mind.

Some ways of gaining cognitive resilience:

Circle of control

The ability to identify the elements of a problem, circumstance or situation that you can and cannot control. For example, during a divorce, you can’t control the fact that your partner does not want to be with you anymore. You cannot control the fact that your loved one has passed away and they are no longer there. Identify the things you cannot control and focus your mind on what you can control.

  • Think-Feel-Act: How you think affects how you feel and how you act. For example, you think about how your brother mocks you, then you feel angry about it, ultimately you slap him. You have control over the three elements (think-feel-act). You have control over your immediate personal responsibility.
  • Positives and Negatives: You can control how you perceive a situation, by shifting from the negative to the positive.
  • Attention & Focus: You can control what you focus your attention on. You can choose to avoid distractions.
  • Self-concept- You can control how you view yourself over others.

Cognitive Restructuring

It is a process of learning to identify unhelpful and faulty thought patterns that are irrational and maladaptive. It is about learning to stop trusting your automatic thoughts about a situation or circumstance. Faulty thinking includes the fact that one can overgeneralize situations, for example, extracting rules from life experiences and applying them across all other situations e.g. “all my sisters are unhappy in their marriages therefore, I will never be happy”, or “everyone does not like me”. In cognitive restructuring we apply the A+B+C+D equation. It involves identifying the (A) activating event, the (B) belief which is what we think about the event or situation and then the (C) which is the consequences of emotions and (D) which means disputing the (B) your belief. Let’s map the previous example:

A –       Your sisters’ marriages

B –       You believe that are unhappy in their marriages and therefore you will never be happy

C-        The consequences of emotions you feel are depression, discontent, hopelessness, misery e.t.c

(D) – Disputing the belief (B)

D-        Dispute the overgeneralized idea that you will never be happy because others are unhappy and learn to perceive, think and take each situation or person differently from the other. Check if your thoughts and beliefs about the event (situation) are accurate and what evidence support your belief / thoughts. Think about how this type of thinking is affecting you and moving forward ion your life. Think about how else you can be able to perceive the situation. Assess the consequences of the situation and your ability to cope.

Life shouldn’t always be easy but at the same time it must not always be very hard. You can be able to cope by learning cognitive resilience.



P. Rupondo (MCP Psy, BSc Hon. Psy)
Specialist Mental Health Practitioner
Clinical Psychologist

© 2020 Published by: Auxilium Health, Articles: Cognitive Resilience: 2 in Depression and the Resilient Mind


Elis A. (2009) Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: It Works for Me – It Can Work for You, 2009, ISBN 1-59102-184-7

Rutter, M. (1987). Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57, 316–331. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.1987.tb03541.x

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