Maybe you had a bad fall semester. Perhaps you struggled to stay afloat in a swamp of stress and homesickness, causing your grades and well-being to suffer. The fall semester might have been challenging, but I have fantastic news: it's over. The beginning of the spring semester is your chance to start fresh habits and practice new success strategies. Your absolutely indispensable tool to thrive in every area of life this semester is resilience.
Resilience, according to the American Psychology Association, is "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress … it means 'bouncing back' from difficult experiences."
College students confront stressful, draining experiences nearly every day. At times, college life is a trudge through caffeine-fueled study sessions and dead-end jobs. Unexpected financial problems and scheduling conflicts lurk in the background, ready to ambush college students at the most inconvenient times. In order to stabilize the precarious balance of our lives and emotions, we need resilience to act as a "shock absorber," according to psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Marmer.
"If cars didn't have shock absorbers, every ride would be a miserable experience," states Marmer in a video for PragerU. "The ride through life without shock absorbers -- that is, resilience -- would be the same."
Marmer continues, "So, without building resilience, [otherwise] your own internal shock absorbers, it's not possible to lead a happy and productive life."
Therefore, to process the emotional challenges stemming from the college experience, you must become resilient. Fortunately, resilience is a learnable trait; you can build resilience by practicing specific habits and thinking patterns.
When faced with a difficult situation, Marmer recommends first adjusting your perspective. "Step back and assess your situation with as much objectivity as you can," he suggests. Consider the worst possible outcome of the situation, and then evaluate its severity and likelihood. "Usually you'll discover the worst thing isn't that bad," says Marmer, "and isn't even likely to happen."
Another crucial habit to fuel healthy perspectives is gratitude. According to therapist Ryan Engelstad, most people are "more familiar with and focused on the obstacles holding them back instead of the resources enabling them to succeed." This common attitude discourages progress and growth. Contrarily, by fostering a grateful attitude, you can reframe a difficult situation as a challenge you are equipped to handle rather than a hardship you are victimized by. You can take charge of your thoughts before they spiral out of control and magnify the situation beyond a reasonable scale.
Journaling is my favorite way to practice gratitude. Every day, I dedicate a few minutes, a fresh notebook page, and a beautiful black pen to scribbling down my thoughts. Listing people, events, and opportunities that I'm grateful for makes me feel more content. Better yet, it calms down my brain and helps me relax. This makes stressors drastically easier to deal with and strengthens resilience.
Finally, to those building their resilience, Marmer offers blunt advice. "Toughen up," he says. "You need to push yourself.
Stretching your comfort zone is uncomfortable. That's the point; destroy the idea that it will be easy. Sticking out this discomfort builds mental toughness, developing the resilience to handle life's many discomforts.
Life challenges everyone, college students included. At times, college life presents emotionally difficult situations which require resilience to handle. Unfortunately, college life can prove mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. However, the new semester is your chance to begin practicing resilience -- equipping yourself for personal and academic success in the process.