Updated: Apr 6
the ability of something to return to its original size and shape after being compressed or deformed
an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change
According to Merriam-Webster’s second definition of resiliency, a resilient person easily adjusts to adversity or change . In a world riddled with adversity, however, what does recovering easily look like? In my revised definition of resiliency, the process of learning (and unlearning) how to recover and adapt is equally as important as the end result.
Oftentimes, the issues that college students (and society at large) experience on an individual scale are influenced by larger systemic issues with no quick-fix solutions. For example, a discussion about a Black female college student’s mental health would be remiss without factoring in the influence of misogynoir, microaggressions, and implicit biases on her everyday life and consequent well-being. Or, consider the effects of rent inflation, lack of public transportation, and widespread layoffs on working-class students’ ability to meet their basic needs, let alone their capacity to focus on schoolwork.
Can we truly return to our original shape when trauma in all its forms, individual, collective, and generational, permanently alters the way our bodies and minds process information?
Defining resiliency as a preexisting ability also conflicts with societal rhetoric surrounding the purpose of a college education. In the United States, college is considered a formative period for students to discover and grow in character and intellect. Positive growth can result from challenging circumstances – homesickness, career uncertainty, and school stress to name a few – and finding effective ways to deal with them. Resilience is one of the four components of psychological capital (Hope, Self-Efficacy, Resilience, and Optimism, or HERO) and is shown to moderate the effect of academic stress on anxiety. Students with high psychological capital respond to stressful academic situations by mobilizing positive coping skills that effectively reduce anxiety .
Most college students in 2023 grew up during watershed events that redefined our understanding of “normal”: 9/11, mass shootings in schools, and the COVID-19 pandemic are just a few of them. There is no returning to the version of our world before these events, and healing from collective trauma is painstakingly slow – yet the resiliency college students display by learning new ways to cope with change and advocating for solutions is undeniable. I think back to the 2021 “Snowpocalypse” winter storm in Texas and how UT students, despite losing power and water themselves, checked on their friends, offered to host other students, and even helped supply their community with food and water.
Perhaps, then, it is more productive to approach resiliency as a skill that is cultivated with practice, as opposed to an innate trait. The Resiliency Training, part of our Shifting Resiliency in the Classroom (SRC) study, aims to develop resiliency skills among college students by equipping them with tools like mindfulness, self-compassion, and grounding practices. This last semester, we piloted the program with first-year students, who are more likely to experience a significant increase in stress, anxiety, and depression than upperclassmen . This is likely due in part to the stress of transitioning from childhood to adulthood and adjusting to an unfamiliar environment with novel academic, social, and financial stressors.
The Resiliency Training introduces students to resiliency skills in a safe environment early on in college, so when stressful circumstances arise, they already have familiar practices to turn to. In addition to the benefits of stress reduction, resiliency is also a positive predictor of psychosocial well-being and academic success in college [4, 5]. Some of the practices in the Resiliency Training include setting boundaries to prevent burnout, naming three good things about today to cultivate positive emotions, and choosing a small daily gift to practice self-compassion.
Recently, the AQR Lab has been practicing the Small Daily Gifts exercise to conclude our meetings, a fitting choice for this busy time of year. My mood lifts when I hear the small acts of kindness my labmates choose for themselves, such as going outside on a beautiful day, meeting with a friend for lunch, or taking a nap after the meeting. This communal aspect of the Resiliency Training reminds me that although mental health is a personal journey, there is power in openly sharing with others for support and encouragement when we feel safe and comfortable doing so.
 Merriam-Webster. (2023, March 11). Resiliency definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resiliency
 Yang, Y., & Yang, P. (2022). Effect of college students’ academic stress on anxiety under the background of the normalization of covid-19 pandemic: The mediating and moderating effects of psychological capital. Frontiers in Psychology, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.880179
 DeRosier, M. E., Frank, E., Schwartz, V., & Leary, K. A. (2013). The potential role of resilience education for preventing mental health problems for college students. Psychiatric Annals, 43(12), 538–544. https://doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20131206-05
 Leary, K. A., & DeRosier, M. E. (2012). Factors promoting positive adaptation and resilience during the transition to college. Psychology, 03(12), 1215–1222. https://doi.org/10.4236/psych.2012.312a180
 Robbins, A., Kaye, E., & Catling, J. C. (2018). Predictors of student resilience in higher education. Psychology Teaching Review, 24(1), 44–52. https://doi.org/10.53841/bpsptr.2018.24.1.44