Building Resilience

Adjusting to stressful and challenging situations is an important part of succeeding in college. As a student, you are frequently challenged to adjust to new experiences, develop new relationships, and take on enhanced roles and responsibilities. College students today face high expectations and must learn to manage stress. For these reasons, resilience can be especially beneficial to students. Negotiating challenges and disappointments are inevitable parts of learning and succeeding in college. Resilient students are more likely to bounce back from life, including school, challenges. Learning strategies to enhance your resiliency can benefit you while in college and beyond.

So, what is resilience? The American Psychological Association defines resilience as a process of adapting well to adversity. Adversity can include stressful changes, family, health or relationship problems, trauma, or tragedy. It can also include challenging academic events and financial strain. Resilience helps individuals negotiate adversity and it can also enhance well-being and personal satisfaction overall. Being resilient can help you experience less stress and strengthen your relationships.

Resilience is not a trait that some people have and other people do not have. Rather, resilience is the result of a combination of behaviors and ways of thinking. All people can work on building the behaviors, actions, and ways of thinking common among resilient individuals.

Scientific study has demonstrated that human resilience is common. It is ordinary, not extraordinary. When an individual is resilient, it does not mean that he or she never experiences difficulty or distress. Experiencing stress, sadness, or disappointment is a healthy response to adversity. But, resilience helps us cope with adversity and come back from challenging situations even stronger than we were before.

All students will encounter some form of academic challenge, relationship problem, health issue, financial stress, work worry, or other stress during their time in college. Being able to bounce back from setbacks will increase your likelihood of success.

Individuals who exhibit resilience commonly have a few things in common. First, they have a sense of humor. They are able to laugh at themselves and laugh even in difficult situations. Second, they are likely to have role models or mentors. These are individuals they respect and admire. They can draw strength from these individuals in a time of need. Third, individuals who exhibit resilience commonly have strong social supports. This involves having others who can be trusted and with whom one can share challenging life events. Resilient individuals are also more likely to take on challenge and actively seek opportunities to get out of their comfort zone.

Additionally, resilient individuals commonly demonstrate optimism and gratitude. You can work on developing optimism and gratitude by doing the easy exercise below.

Every day for the next 3 weeks write down the following:

  1. 3 good things that happened that day
  2. 3 things you are grateful for

Keep track of your writing in the same memo app or journal. To be even more effective, do this activity at the same time every day. Keep up this activity and over time you will start noticing more and more “good things” around you. Your outlook might become more optimistic and you might feel more grateful too. When you encounter life’s next big challenge, you could bounce back quicker and stronger than before.


This post was written by guest blogger Dr. Cynthia Demetriou, Director for Retention in the Office of Undergraduate Education & Undergraduate Retention and faculty advisor for Carolina Firsts, the student organization for first generation college students. She is a Carolina alumna with a Ph.D. in Education from the Educational Psychology, Measurement, and Evaluation program at UNC-Chapel Hill. She also holds a Masters degree in Education from Harvard University and a Bachelors degree in English from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has taken additional coursework in educational psychology at New York University. Her research interests include applications of positive psychology in higher education, undergraduate retention, and academic motivation.

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