Resilience is a muscle. Flex it enough and it will take less effort to get over the emotional punches each time.
Every year we see the impact that living away from home and facing the potential pressures of university life can have on students' wellbeing – and this year, with its unprecedented circumstances, it may present even greater challenges.
That’s why we’ve partnered with mental health charity, Shout. Here, Christine from Shout shares her top tips on building resilience when navigating uncertainty.
Recently, I picked up my nephew from school. I noticed a colourful wall with the words, 'whoopsie wall' displayed across the top. When a teacher approached, I asked about the wall. The teacher explained the school celebrated mistakes as part of the growth process. That the 'whoopsie wall' empowers students to take risks without the paralysing fear of failure. To teach them that imperfection and setbacks don’t mean a lack of progress or positive outcome. I browsed the wonky drawings and misspelled words and thought we shouldn't reserve this mentality for children. We should incorporate this mentality throughout our time as students and beyond.
The whoopsie wall reminded me of the Japanese art form Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. Built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Most everyone, and especially students, are conditioned to focus on the end result. We don’t always appreciate the value of the cracks and hurdles.
Every struggle teaches something important that can be the seed for the next great thing. This is the essence of resilience. Traditionally, we’ve viewed resilience as the capacity to 'bend not break' to 'bounce back' to where we were before a struggle. What if, instead of 'bouncing back', we learned to embrace the challenges that cause cracks? To take the pressure off of ourselves to return to the status quo. Rather to build something more valuable from the fractured pieces.
Anyone can learn to embrace and grow from struggles. Resilience is not a fixed trait that either we have or don’t have. Instead, we can all learn to increase our capacity for resilience. When we build resilience, we prepare ourselves to navigate uncertainty. We can face any challenge or stress thrown our way.
Here are three tips you can use to build emotional resilience.
Maybe you’ve never been through a global pandemic, break up, or lived away from your family before but everyone has been through something. Take a moment to ask yourself, “What are the top three biggest struggles I’ve faced in my life?” Once you’ve identified your top three biggest struggles it’s time to investigate how you made it through.
Write a list or talk with a friend about what helped you during those dark moments. Did you use coping strategies like music, drawing or dancing? Social support like a friend or school counsellor you could talk to? A mantra you told yourself? How did you persevere to make it where you are right now? Next, ask yourself which of those strategies apply to your current situation. What strengths and strategies do you already have in your resilience toolkit that are useful now?
Mindfulness means living your life more in the present moment, instead of operating on autopilot or getting caught up in the past or the future. A focus on the present moment is a key component of resilience. In moments of change or distress, we tend to react, rather than respond. To respond with intention rather than react on instinct, try practicing mindfulness.
Without judgment or analysis, simply notice what you feel in the moment. Remind yourself, “this is a moment of pain” or “this hurts” or “this is stressful.” Consider that each moment adds up to each minute, each minute to each hour, each hour to each day, each day to each week. While we can’t control everything, we can control each small present moment. Focus on how you can feel okay one tiny bit at a time.
Take the pandemic for instance. If we ruminate on the idea of things never going back to “normal” (focus on the future) we’ll become distressed and overwhelmed. Instead, consider how you can build joy into your present moment. Can you eat something delicious, listen to a song you like, text a friend, or watch a YouTube video that makes you laugh? Each small action in the present moment grounds us. It opens up a frame of mind that helps us manage challenges.
When we go through a change or challenge we are prone to zero in on the negative aspects or the threats. We're programmed this way as a matter of self protection. Way back in human history, we had to focus our attention on the lion in front of us vs. the rainbow in the distance. If we didn't do this, we never would have survived. This programming served us well many many years ago but now it is less helpful. It can cause us to get stuck in a loop where we rehash the negatives over and over.
To counteract this response, try listing all the positives of the challenging situation. At first this might feel like a stretch but you’ll surprise yourself with how many hidden positives even the worst situation has. Take a fight with a friend for example, did you learn something new about yourself? Get something off your chest? Discover that music does a good job of soothing you when you feel lonely? Or consider the pandemic, did you get closer with your housemate or sister? Get a bit more rest? Or see how strong you were even in the toughest times?
It's important to remember that the goal is not to minimise the negative aspects of a painful change or challenge. Instead, the aim is to uncover the parts of the situation that can help us grow and enrich our lives.
Try these tips to keep up the strength that has brought you this far. And remember you’re not alone. There’s always support. If you or anyone you know needs support, you can text SHOUT to 85258, anytime 24/7, free of charge.
Once you text in, a Shout Volunteer can listen to more about what you're going through and collaborate with you to come up with some next steps to manage it.
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