Angelos - Winter 2017

Bouncing Back: Resilience Skills You Can (and should) Build Now

Patti J. Fleck, Ph.d., Epsilon Alpha-Missouri S&T, and Mary Chandler Bolin, Ph.d., Epsilon Omega-Kentucky 2016-12-17 19:30:35

"A good school teaches you resilience-that ability to bounce back" -Kate Reardon EMERGING ADULTHOOD, OFTEN defined as between 18 and 25 years old, is an exciting time when a great deal of development occurs. Research shows the human brain does not reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s when we get better at solving problems, thinking ahead and regulating emotions. At the same time, young adults face the developmental tasks of establishing social connections, forming intimate relationships, clarifying values, gaining independence and preparing for a career. For many college students, these physiological changes and social tasks take place in the context of adapting to a new environment with more freedom and responsibilities. As directors of counseling services on our respective campuses, we are very familiar with the challenges college students face. Students must adjust to being away from family and old friends and becoming familiar with the new landscape of campus. They need to navigate multiple demands of academics, social interactions, work obligations, extracurricular involvement and daily life tasks. The traditional college years may offer greater access to alcohol and the risk of alcohol-related sexual assaults. Some mental health providers also speculate that students, while "connected" in this age of ever-present social media, may actually experience increased social anxiety and discomfort when faced with in-person interactions – whether in academic group projects or sharing a living space with a peer for the first time. Finally, young adulthood is often when mental health issues first appear, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. According to the Association for University and College Counseling Directors' 2016 annual survey, the top three presenting concerns of counseling center clients are anxiety, depression and relationship issues. The 2015 Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) annual report summarized mental health data from more than 100,000 students receiving counseling services at over 100 schools. Compared to the previous five years, the number of students using services has increased 30 percent, which is much higher than the 5 percent increase in enrollment. Additionally, the CCMH data indicates students are experiencing higher levels of depression, both general and social anxiety, non-suicidal self-harm and serious thoughts of suicide. WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET? Carol Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology at Stanford University and the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck and her colleagues found: "Students' mindsets – how they perceive their abilities – played a key role in their motivation and achievement... Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset)." The growth mindset involves not only effort but also a toolbox of strategies, including asking for input or help and interpreting challenges as part of the process of learning. In a September 2015 Education Week Spotlight, Dweck emphasizes we're all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and if we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to pay attention to our fixed mindset and recognize its triggers. She says: "Watch for a fixed-mindset reaction when you face challenges. Do you feel overly anxious? ... Do you feel incompetent or defeated? Do you look for an excuse? Watch to see whether criticism brings out your fixed mindset. Do you become defensive, angry or crushed instead of interested in learning from the feedback? Accept those thoughts and feelings and work with and through them." Resilience, by definition, is the ability to adapt to change and/or recover from misfortune. In other words, it's the ability to bounce back from adversity. When we hear stories of individuals demonstrating resilience by overcoming very difficult situations, we may think their responses are rare and reflect something unique in their character. In reality, the opposite is true; human beings are generally resilient and can become more so with intention and practice. Resilience is a common set of skills that can be learned. Beyond the lifelong benefit of enhancing personal well-being, resilience is among the "soft skills" that today's employers seek in college graduates. The National Association of Colleges and Employers highly values the ability to work in a team structure, make decisions and solve problems, and accept and learn from critical feedback. Additionally, employers seek to hire those who demonstrate the ability to bounce back from perceived failure and independently persist in the absence of extensive affirmative feedback. The bottom line is that there are many challenges in college – and throughout our lives – that present opportunities to build resiliency and work toward the growth mindset. HOW CAN WE BECOME MORE RESILIENT? Our ability to cope with challenges is founded on good preventative self-care practices. Adequate sleep, nutrition, physical activity and proactive stress management prepare us to bounce back more readily. Components of resilience are represented by the acronym SAVES: Social connections provide a sense of belonging and feelings of being valued as a person. Helping others benefits both the recipient and the helper. "I have to tell you, I'm proudest of my life off the court. There will always be great basketball players who bounce that little round ball, but my proudest moments are affecting people's lives, effecting change, being a role model in the community." – MAGIC JOHNSON Attitudes of optimism, hope and gratitude along with seeing situations from various perspectives and having flexible thinking allow us to persevere during difficult times. "All things are possible until they are proved impossible – and even the impossible may only be so, as of now." – PEARL S. BUCK Values – that reflect a growth mindset and see "failures" as opportunities to learn and grow – promote resilience. "The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself." – ANNA QUINDLEN Emotional acceptance involves being self-aware, practicing self-care, managing emotions effectively and accepting that change is part of life. We cannot control life circumstances, but we can modulate our emotional responses. "No matter how far life pushes you down, no matter how much you hurt, you can always bounce back." – SHERYL SWOOPES Silliness and a sense of humor lighten hard times. "Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom." – GEORGE S. PATTON FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO RESILIEN CE AND GROWTH • Close relationships with family and friends • A positive view of yourself • Confidence in your strengths and abilities • Good problem-solving and communication skills • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out • The ability to manage strong feelings and impulses • Feeling in control • Seeking help and resources, such as the campus counseling center • Seeing yourself as resilient • Coping with stress in healthy ways and avoiding harmful coping strategies • Helping others • Finding positive meaning in your life despite difficult or traumatic events WHEN TO BE CONCERNED When life events, stressors and/or perceived "failures" begin to impair daily function, it's time to take notice. Your alarm bells should begin to go off when previously enjoyable activities bring no satisfaction, when normal tasks generate anxiety or seem to require inordinate energy, or when there are negative changes in baseline energy, sleep, appetite, social interactions, focus or increased substance use. HOW FRIENDS AND FAMILY CAN HELP If you are concerned about a friend or family member, you may be in the best position to intervene because you have an existing connection and changes from the person's baseline behavior are more easily noticed. Begin by expressing your awareness that something seems different and be as behaviorally specific as possible. For example, note changes in communication patterns or not having energy to do things that previously would have been fun. Ask gentle questions, be prepared to listen more than talk, and do not predict the answer. A decrease in a student's texting frequency may reflect her attempt to establish more independence or to balance the multiple demands of college – not any breach in a long and solid relationship. If existing resilience skills seem overly challenged, offer encouragement to seek assistance and encourage persistence in pursuing important goals. Do be concerned if someone expresses thoughts of suicide or admits to non-suicidal self-injury, substance abuse, disordered eating, or being a victim of violence, bullying or bias. These are all significant concerns that should be taken seriously. FIND OUT MORE: • How to Have a Really Successful Failure by Abigail Lipson • The Fringe Benefits of Failure, the Harvard commencement speech by J.K. Rowling • Growth Mindset and the Power of Not Yet, TED Talks by Carol Dweck • Getting Stuck in the Negatives, TED Talks by Alison Ledgerwood

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