The keyword “stress” is one of the most common topics to come up when we talk about emotional and mental wellness. While there are different types of stress, and some are more harmful than others, we tend to talk about stress broadly as a parasitic force on our energy, creativity and even our social happiness. While there are plenty of times where a crisis pops out of nowhere to test us, perhaps too often we think about stress as something we reactively treat rather than proactively prepare for. This is slightly analogous to someone waiting for the last minute to study for a test; it might work sometimes, but it is hardly ever the easiest or most recommendable path.
Consider a question: what is the opposite of stress? On one hand, a perfectly understandable answer would be something along the lines of “peace” or “confidence” or “relaxation.” These are all mental or emotional states that we tend to associate with a lack of stress, but if you have ever been in the middle of a stressful situation and simply tried to “calm down,” then you know how little comfort that route can bring. Sort of like trying to force yourself to have fun, “calmness” isn’t something we can force upon ourselves.
Alternatively, what if we defined the “opposite of stress” as a trait that a person might have rather than a mood or a feeling? One term that people use to describe our inner, as well as outer, resources against stress is the word “Resilience.” Like the strength of a muscle or the quickness of a reflex, people might have more or less natural resilience, but just like the case of those physical examples, we can train ourselves to be more resilient to stress beforehand. This can give us proactive measures for growth outside of trying or difficult situations. As The Resilience Center reminds us, one of the first steps is to admit to ourselves that stress is unavoidable in life and that our task is much more to manage it rather than to ever fully free ourselves of stressful feelings: “Stress resilience is not resistance, avoidance or inoculation to stress. Whether we have a great deal of resilience or not, we still will experience stress. We will continue to get the flu, have accidents, experience loss and fail. Events that challenge us will continue to occur. No matter how robust our resilience is, we will never be numb to stress or able to prevent it from occurring.” This means, first and foremost, that we should never feel guilty about stress and anxiety in our lives; instead, we should view them as necessary evils that we will learn to mitigate more and more throughout life.
As a way of thinking about how one could reflect on as well as develop their own resilience, the University of New Hampshire’s Services on Wellness offer a breakdown of what they consider to be the five components of resilience. Here are their five categories with some explanation:
- Trust ‒ I think it is no coincidence that “Trust” comes first on the list because many people might assume that resilience is all about being able to handle things “all on your own,” but that is hardly the case. Instead, people who are able to handle challenges and seemingly not break a sweat nearly always have people they know they can turn to for emotional support, guidance with a problem or just a well-needed laugh. Learn to reach out to people in your family or friend groups before things like a big project or a tough time and let them know you might need a little more support than usual. Just be ready to do the same for them and keep that trust alive on both sides!
- Identity ‒ Now this doesn’t mean “having a perfect identity,” but more like being aware of your values, your strengths and your weaknesses. As they state, “A sense of identity helps you know the limits of what you can and can’t handle and affirms your right and need to be your own advocate. Once you understand what you value, you are better able to make choices that align with who you are.” Failure in some ways will be inevitable, so having a strong sense of what is and isn’t truly important to you can help decide how to best direct your energies and help keep the perspective that small failures are just that, small.
- Independence ‒ Think of this as a counter-posed force to the categories like “Trust” and the ones below; nobody can deal with stress purely on their own in the same way that nobody can simply rely on others to wave the problems away for them. Similarly, independence doesn’t mean complete freedom, but it means developing and maintaining a sense of control over things like your finances, living situation, friendships and even romantic relationships. By working on these areas (whatever your identity guides you toward) you can develop a strong sense of self-esteem, which can buoy you when things do get difficult.
- Relationships and Support Systems ‒ Closely related to “Trust,” we must also think about the connections we keep and how they might help us in a crisis. This isn’t about thinking about other people as instruments for us to use, but having a friend at work who can offer you the perspective of their experience or even just a friend in class to remind you if you have homework can be the difference between nipping a problem in the bud and letting a problem overwhelm us. Even little things like introducing yourself to your neighbors can make things go easier in the event of something like power loss because you know the people around you are willing to help.
- Initiative and Problem Solving Skills ‒ Now obviously, life would be less stressful if we always knew the answer or had a trick up our sleeves, but often people might be able to recognize common sources of stress in their lives and work on the skills to mitigate these moments. If your boss or a customer at work is giving you a hard time, take a moment to forgive yourself, but also consider this as a moment you can focus on. Is there a way to be better prepared for next time, or is there someone you can talk to about how they would have handled the situation? Making those connections can give you a progressive route to take against future stressful situations.
Let us at Life University help you build this personal resilience. Yes, college life is notorious for students feeling overworked and sleep deprived, but it is also a key period in peoples’ lives where they develop these components of resilience both in their personal faculties as well as in the lifelong connections they make with peers and faculty.