Paths to Resilience and Success
Paths to Resilience and Success
Soonhee Lee, PhD, Interim Counseling Center Assistant Director/Training, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Susan Han, PhD, Counseling Center Associate Director for Outreach, Johns Hopkins University; and Bruce Herman, PhD, Director of Health & Counseling, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
A new academic year has begun, and for many college students, it’s a time of academic, personal, and social development. You may experience a wide range of emotions, including excitement, nervousness, sadness, or happiness. In addition, about 70 percent of successful people experience impostor syndrome (feeling like a fake or fraud), and it is not uncommon to feel intimidated by seemingly smarter peers and professors.
This is all normal. But knowing that these emotional ups and downs are normal doesn’t necessarily make them easier to deal with. But there are ways to cope throughout college. Resilience, in particular, has been shown to be positively related to mental well-being, academic success, and retention (Eisenberg et al., 2016). Here are some specific resilience- building strategies that you can practice throughout your college experience.
- Get involved with friends and organizations. First-year students’ sense of social belonging was found to predict their academic and health-related outcomes over three years (Walton & Cohen, 2011). It takes time to develop close relationships, so be patient! Also, remember that participation in clubs and organizations, leadership positions, and immersion into the community all contribute to a sense of belonging in your college life.
- Accept that no one is perfect. Rigid and too-high standards can take an emotional toll on students, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety. And while it can seem motivating to compare yourself to someone who does better than you, it may also dampen your spirit or sense of hope. Keep in mind all of the things you already do well, accept that it is okay to be human, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
- Embrace your anxiety. Anxiety is a part of life and necessary for survival. Anxiety’s effect on you is a bell curve. We do best when we experience a moderate level of anxiety. There are different strategies that can help you reduce anxiety when it is too high, but you should also try to motivate yourself when your anxiety is too low. Embrace your anxiety, rather than fight or suppress it. Then, study techniques such as mindfulness, cognitive flexibility, or relaxation to help you cope with the range of anxiety.
- Nurture your body. Our minds and our bodies are intricately connected, and wellness encompasses a holistic view of health. Healthy eating habits, regular exercise, and restful sleep are just as important as self-care and study breaks. For academic success, nurture your mind and your body.
- Ask for help and guidance. Whenever you face a new opportunity or challenge, don’t be afraid to ask questions, get advice, and learn from others’ experiences. Colleges provide a wealth of services and resources that are intended to guide you, and don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help whenever you need it. Taking steps early on can prevent problems in the future!
- Get to know the mental health resources on campus. It can be helpful to talk to a mental health professional before, during, and after your stress or anxiety levels start to impact your academic, social, or personal functioning. Many colleges have a counseling center or offer various mental health services, including individual or group counseling, skills-based workshops, or psychiatric care. The staff are trained to work with college students and can help you develop a plan for the future. In addition, many schools offer crisis services or referrals for students who are in need of more immediate care. Make sure you are aware of these resources, for yourself or for your friends and peers who may be in need.
The above strategies can help you as you navigate your way through college. As you practice resiliency-building skills, you may find yourself feeling better able to face new challenges and persist despite barriers. The staff and faculty of your school are also on your side and want to see you thrive. Make the most of the resources that are provided to you and enjoy the college experience!
Eisenberg, D., Lipson, S. K., & Posselt, J. (2016). Promoting resilience, retention, and mental health. College Student Mental Health, 156, 87–95.
Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331, 1447–1451.