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Change Can be Hard: 6 Steps to Build Your Resilience

Greg Vander Wal

about the AUTHOR

Dr. Greg Vander Wal is the executive director of The University of Alabama Counseling Center and a licensed psychologist. Vander Wal has over a decade of experience in collegiate mental health services.

As we reach the end of another academic year, many students (and others in our community) will be facing times of transition.

Whether you are graduating and making your next career steps or preparing to move home for the summer, the end of the year brings a change often accompanied by stress. Times of change can challenge our desire for control and predictability, especially when they have high stakes or represent uncertainty. Our bodies are designed to rise to the challenge and face stressors, but we have finite resources. Too much stress or chronic stress can lead to distress.

So, how do we effectively cope with change and the stress that comes along with it? The idea of coping effectively with change is often referred to as resilience.

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity and increasing our capacity for change. It involves embracing difficulty and change as a learning experience, as well as building a toolbox to cope with a wide range of difficulties in a flexible way. Resilience is NOT about getting rid of negative emotions, a happiness pill, an all-or-nothing proposition or a solution to specific problems.

Some strategies to help build resiliency and expand our capacity to manage change and stress are outlined below. Feel free to use these for yourself or share them with others who are going through transition.

Focus on what you can control.

When facing change, much of what creates worry and stress is outside our immediate control. It can be helpful to ask yourself, “Is this something I can control?” If the answer is yes, make a plan or take a step toward resolving the issue. If the answer is no, ask yourself if you can change your attitude or perceptions toward the situation.

Practice self-care.

It is important to prioritize your needs. Give yourself space. You are important! Make sure to be intentional about checking your approach to time management, organization, problem-solving and stress management (sleeping well, eating well, exercising well, socializing well).

Check on your thought patterns.

How we think about things affects how we feel about them, and often our first impression of things is not accurate. Some helpful ways to think about change and challenges are:

  • Realistic optimism: “I can persevere,” and/or “This too shall pass.”
  • Turn crisis into opportunity. View things as challenging, not dangerous. View things as an opportunity, not a hassle.
  • Foster thoughts that are kind to yourself. Be your biggest cheerleader, not your biggest bully.
  • Be present in the moment.

The present moment is the one place where you can do something. If you are living in the past or future within your head, it steals the opportunity to act in the here and now. If you are thinking about the future, make sure you are focused on planning the next steps rather than worrying. Practice mindfulness and acceptance. Use deep breathing exercises. Take a moment to pay attention to your senses. Let go of needing to judge experiences as good or bad. All of these can help you stay present in the moment.

Focus on your priorities, goals and values.

Invest in knowing yourself. Understanding your values and beliefs and then acting on them daily is a wonderful way to find contentment in the face of uncertainty and change. Make sure you are engaging in meaningful activities daily. Actively work to discover lessons from challenging experiences that can inform your values.

Be flexible.

A Japanese proverb says, “The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.” The ability to be flexible and adaptive can help you navigate and embrace change. It is good to have goals and expectations. It is also good to know when they need to be shifted.

Find your support and use it!

No one can always navigate this life alone, especially when facing change and stress. Know who is in your corner and lean on them when you need it. There is considerable strength that comes with asking for help when you need it.

Stress Free Days are coming!

During spring study week, the Counseling Center and University Programs partner to bring Stress Free Days to campus. This is a week of events providing opportunities for students to de-stress while they prepare for their final exams. There will be events all study week, April 22-26. As we get closer to the date, details will be provided through University Programs. We’d love to see you at any of these events!

Counseling Center summer services

Did you know that the Counseling Center is open during summer? Students actively enrolled in classes can access Counseling Center services. Services are also available for students who are not taking classes and who reside in the state of Alabama. To qualify, you must have been enrolled in the Spring Semester 2023 and be enrolled in the Fall Semester 2024. We are not able to provide services to incoming freshman students until they arrive for the fall semester. We are also not able to provide services for students after they graduate.

Online Resource for Students

Students now have access to an online peer support community called Togetherall.

Togetherall’s online community is clinically moderated by mental health professionals and offers students a safe and anonymous place to express thoughts, concerns and triumphs. Resources are free for UA students (aged 16+) to use and are available 24/7/365. You can give and get support from others as well as access mental health and well-being courses and resources. To learn more, watch this short explainer video. It’s free, anonymous and available now. Sign up online!