BUILDING EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE

What is emotional resilience?

Resilience comes from the Latin resilio, which means to jump or bounce back. Emotional resilience is our ability to cope with, or adapt to, stressful situations or life events.

Emotional resilience is fast becoming a new buzz word.  Originally developed to help trauma and disaster victims, it is now being applied to the stresses of modern life, in schools, offices and pressured academic environments.

Why do I need it?

Emotional resilience helps us cope with whatever life throws at us. It is like having an internal suit of armour.

Studying can be demanding, particularly at times of extra pressure such as exams, deadlines, presentations and medical OSCE exams. There are also other factors in the student experience which might cause stress, for example, living away from home, cohabiting with other students, or money issues.

By developing mental ‘toughness’ you’ll learn to challenge negative thoughts and see crises as challenges to overcome, not insurmountable problems.

Improving your resilience will help you perform better in your studies and will prepare you for the stresses of working life.

How do I know if I have it already?

Do you struggle to manage your emotional reactions to stressful situations at university or in your personal life? Do you find yourself becoming overwhelmed? Do you have trouble finding solutions to your problems? If any of this sounds familiar then you could benefit from developing your resilience.

Studying and juggling other demands (part-time work, caring for others, family problems) can be stressful so the ability to bounce back when life becomes challenging is an essential skill both at university and beyond.

Aren’t some people just naturally more resilient?

Resilience can be taught. It isn’t a trait that people either have or don’t have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. Resilience is a skill set that anyone can acquire.

For example, one way to build resilience is to identify and build on personal strengths and values. Building a strong support network can also help you become more resilient.

So I have to toughen up and cope with whatever life throws at me?

Not at all. There are exceptional circumstances when it would be extremely difficult for anyone to continue with their studies as normal no matter how resilient they are. For example, when a close family member dies or you suffer a traumatic experience.

Queen Mary University of London (and your employers in the future) has a responsibility for your health and safety and is committed to promoting an environment that supports your mental and physical wellbeing.

Make sure you know where to seek support and advice if you feel you are struggling to cope or if you feel your mental or physical wellbeing are at risk. (Student Support contacts in each School, the Student Union's Academic Advice Service; Advice and Counselling Service)

If I’m not resilient enough to cope, does it mean I’m being weak?

Absolutely not. It is about developing self-awareness to identify when you are coping or when you need to call on support from your tutor or other support services. It takes strength to take charge and address the difficulties you might be having.

There are some situations when a student is faced with challenges or life stresses that make it incredibly difficult to cope and they would be jeopardising their academic potential by struggling on. The university has policies in place to make allowances for these situations, for example you may decide that you need to take some time out of your studies until you feel well enough to return - this is called an interruption of study. We explain how this works in our advice guides:

Home and EU undergraduate students

Home and EU Postgraduate students

International Students (undergraduate and postgraduate)

I’m really struggling to cope – should I sit my exams and see how it goes?

Queen Mary has a ‘fit to sit’ policy. This means that if you sit an exam, you’re declaring yourself fit to do so. Being ‘fit’ generally means that you’re feeling well and functioning effectively. Therefore, if you’re feeling unwell because of medical or personal difficulties, you should not sit an exam.

If you sit an exam knowing that you are unwell, you will not be able to successfully claim extenuating circumstances. If you do not sit an exam because you are unwell, you must notify your School and submit a claim for extenuating circumstances.

How do I know if I’m ‘fit to sit’?

Exams are designed to test your academic performance under stress. You are expected to feel stressed. It would be more of a worry if you weren’t feeling at all stressed!

Feeling ‘fit to sit’ isn’t about being on peak performance and feeling like you can give 100% to it. It is quite common to feel anxious in the run up to an exam, to find it difficult to eat and to have a bad night’s sleep. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not ‘fit to sit’.

If you’re not sure, then get advice from the Student Support Officer in your department or from the Advice and Counselling Service.

Next step:

  • Learn to bounceBoingBoing promotes research into resilience and has developed Resilient Therapy, see their website for lots of info and free resources
  • Take a testHow Resilient are You?
  • Learn to manage stress betterStress
  • Download the Department of Health’s Emotional Resilience Toolkit - this toolkit includes research, case studies and suggested actions which employers can take to facilitate emotional resilience in the workplace
  • Read ‘The Emotional Intelligence Workbook’ by Jill Dan – a step by step workbook for developing your emotional intelligence, this book and the others below are available in the library through our Bibliotherapy scheme
  • Read ‘How to Deal with Adversity’ by Christopher Hamilton - how do we cope when things go wrong and what helps us weather the difficult experiences we have in life
  • Read ‘How to Develop Emotional Health’ by Oliver James - what we can do to make ourselves healthier and happier
  • Talk to a counsellor