Resilience by Val Becker

In recent years, “resilience” and its companion concept “grit” have become buzzwords in higher education. Resilience “is not the exception to the rule, it is the rule,” said Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and researcher on resilience and grit. With all that is happening in the world, post-traumatic stress is one possible outcome. But we also have the potential for post-traumatic growth.

Gritty and resilient students, the thinking goes, know how to persevere through life’s inevitable stressors. They know how to halt the negative thoughts that can spiral into a crisis. They’re more likely to stay on track, academically and psychologically.

Grit and resilience have become especially salient ideas as colleges try to respond to students’ mental-health troubles, which were already skyrocketing before the pandemic. In some ways, the COVID-19 era seems like exactly the right time to educate students on how to manage the intense sadness, isolation, and anxiety they may be feeling.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stressful circumstances. It is one of the most important qualities that a physician can have and today’s medical students are developing their resilience in tandem with their learning of medical knowledge.

Although stress can have negative effects, research shows that even severe stress can make you stronger—if you adopt the right mindset. How do you do that?

  • First, acknowledge your stress. This means neither catastrophizing nor downplaying the stress as it impacts you personally.
  • Second, own your stress. Welcome what you’re feeling to help you connect it to your values: you feel stressed because it relates to something deeply important to you.
  • Third, use your stress. Channel your time and energy into tasks that are aligned with your values.

Don’t stress about stress. Denying it or worrying about its negative effects is counterproductive. Do adopt a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset and help the people in your life to do the same.

Our medical students will need to adopt a resilient mind-set: Do not be upset about the things you can’t change.  Grit and resilience are not personality traits; they are developed with practice. People who flourish are not less afraid, worried, or upset about what’s going on around them. They have just worked at holding these emotions and thoughts in a healthy manner. Grit and resilience are worthy goals, not only do students have to absorb the shock of displacement from campus lives, but they have to turn it into a saga of triumph and growth.