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How to be a Resilient Student When it Feels Like the World is Falling Apart

By Leehi Yona
JD/PhD Student, Law/Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources
Lead Learning Consultant and Peer Academic Coach


Phew. It has been a month, fellow students. I don’t know what I thought would happen in 2020, but a global pandemic wasn’t on the shortlist of possibilities. (As a matter of fact, I had planned, and still plan, to take my qualifying exam — a different kind of earth-shattering event.)

One challenge that we are hearing over and over again from students is the impact all of this global uncertainty is having on our lives. Of course, there’s no doubt that we are all being directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — which means we need to cultivate resilience, now more than ever.

Why is resilience so important right now?

We are not living in normal times. This pandemic, and its impact on our daily lives, is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Resilience will help us adapt to the challenge, and help us succeed as students.

What is resilience?

Resilience, in short, is the ability to bounce back from failures or setbacks. It’s the realization that failure is normal and part of the journey to success. It stems from self-compassion.

How do I become a resilient person?

  • Distinguish between “real-problem” and “hypothetical” worries. A real-problem worry is one that you can do something about in this very moment (for example, worrying about running out of food or medication). A hypothetical worry is a worry about something that might (or might not) happen in the future (e.g., whether or not classes will become or remain remote). Real-problem worries can help us, but we can’t do anything about hypothetical worries (credit to Dr. Matthew Whalley and Dr. Hardeep Kaur at Psychology Tools for this suggestion).
  • Try “postponing” your worry. It might sound weird, but give yourself a set amount of time to worry. For example, tell yourself, “I will let myself worry between 4 and 4:30 PM today.” Doing this might help you focus throughout the day.
  • Limit your news intake. The constant news cycle can be overwhelming. Distinguish between helpful news (e.g., local news) and unhelpful news (news that increases your worrying but that you can’t do anything about). Try to read helpful news, and limit your overall news intake, such as reading the news once a day.
  • Practice mindfulness. Apps that have free versions (or free premium trials) include Headspace, Calm, and Balance.
  • Move. Exercise will help you sleep better and regulate your mood. We love these free resources: POPSUGAR workouts, Yoga with Adrienne, and the Bodyweight Exercise Reddit.
  • Focus on the things you can control. You might not be able to control what is going on in the world right now, but you can control your news intake, your kindness towards others and yourself, your own social distancing, your attitude.
  • Incorporate positive distractions. Instead of the news, go to wholesome meme pages, watch cooking videos, draw — use your downtime to focus on pleasant distractions.
  • Maintain and cultivate connections to your communities. Call your family members, have Netflix Parties with your friends, have joint workout sessions with your classmates!
  • Write. Journal, write a letter to yourself; get your thoughts out on paper.
  • Listen to music. Whatever makes you feel happy, calm, upbeat!

How do I cultivate academic resilience?

  • Recognize that these are unprecedented times. Treat yourself with kindness, and tend to your health (and your families’ health) first.
  • Maintain a regular schedule:
    • Make your bed in the morning. It might help keep you from getting back in!
    • Have a morning routine (a cup of tea, a meditation?). It’ll get you up and started for the day.
    • Wind down at the end of the day. Go "home"; for instance, have a set time to unplug, make dinner, and so on. 
    • Test out working at different times of day (e.g., morning vs. afternoon), and work during the times you feel most productive.
  • Keep a designated workspace. We recognize this might be really tough, depending on the space you are living in right now. Create a space that you only use to study. This could be your kitchen table, or a corner of your room. It can be whatever you can put together (one friend created a “standing desk” by stacking boxes on top of each other).
  • Set realistic goals. Know that it is incredibly normal if you find it harder to focus than usual. Be kind to yourself! Set goals that are realistic for you to reach (remember, the best goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). Try to break tasks into very small time chunks at first: whatever you can manage. I personally started out with 30-minute chunks as I worked on my literature review, reading one section of a journal article for each chunk of time.
  • Plan for distractions. There is a lot going on! You might have family members or pets who need your attention. There are many more distractions that might pop up when you are learning remotely, especially if you are home with your family. Communicate with any roommates or family members about how you might work together to create a conducive learning environment.

Bonus tip: your Academic Coaches are here for you throughout the quarter. If you need help, reach out and schedule a Zoom session with us at academicskills.stanford.edu. We can chat about anything that's on your mind.

Above all else, remember to be kind to yourself, and to tend to your well-being. We are living in starkly different times. Take care of yourselves and your communities — and good luck this quarter!