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University Counseling Center

Resilience in a time of war

It may seem like the war has nothing to do with you. On the other hand, the news can seem overwhelming. You may have a friend in ROTC or you may have a relative in the military. And, with the threat of terrorism, the war can get close to home pretty quickly. Is there something you can do to prepare mentally? The good news is that you can learn the skills of resilience – the ability to adapt well in the face of hard times – disasters like hurricanes; earthquakes; tragedy; threats; or high stress of any kind. Here are some tips to help you learn resilience. Please keep in mind that each person’s journey along the road to resilience will be different – what works for you may not work for your friends.

10 Tips for learning resilience

  • Talk About It. Talk with your friends and, yes, even with your parents. Understand that your parents or another relative may have more experience with war than you do, and they may be afraid as well. In fact, it may be harder for them to talk about it than it is for you! Don’t be afraid to express your opinion, even if the person you talk to takes the opposite view. Ask questions and listen to the answers. And understand that some people may express hatred for people from a certain country or region – it doesn’t mean that you have to. Get connected to your college community, whether it’s as part of a church group or a sports group.
  • Turn It Off. You want to stay informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in. Watching a news report once informs you; watching it over and over again just adds to the stress and contributes no new knowledge.
  • Cut Yourself Some Slack. The stresses of war may heighten daily stresses. Your emotions might already be all over the map; the uncertainty during a time of war can make these shifts seem more extreme. Be prepared for this and go a little easy on yourself and on your friends.
  • Create A No-War Zone. Make your room/apartment/home a “no war zone” – free from the stress and anxieties associated with war. Understand that your parents and friends are under wartime stresses as well and may want to talk to you a little more than usual.
  • Stick To The Program. Spending time on a college campus means more choices; so let your dorm room/apartment/home be your constant. Map out a routine and stick to it. Routines tend to give you comfort, whether it’s the things you do before class, going out to lunch, or have a nightly phone call with a friend.
  • Take Care Of Yourself – Physically, Mentally and Spiritually. And get sleep. If you don’t, you may be more grouchy and nervous at a time when you have to stay sharp. There’s a lot going on, and it is more difficult to face if you’re falling asleep on your feet.
  • Take Control. Make sure you are included in any emergency planning at home, school or work. Go over what each person will do in different scenarios such as what to do if a military emergency occurs while you’re at school versus at home. If you’ve got family or friends in the military, get as much information as you can about where that person will be, how long they’ll be gone, and how often they’ll be able to contact you.
  • Express Yourself. War can bring up a number of conflicting emotions, but sometimes, it’s just too hard to talk to someone about what you’re feeling. If talking isn’t working, do something else to capture your emotions like start a journal or create art.
  • Help Somebody. Nothing gets your mind off your own problems like solving someone else’s. Try volunteering in your community or at your school, cleaning-up around the dorm or apartment, or helping a friend with his or her schoolwork.
  • Put Things In A Positive Perspective. War may be all anyone is talking about now. But eventually, wars end. If you’re worried about whether you’ve got what it takes to get through this, think back on a time when you faced up to your fears, whether it was asking someone on a date or applying for a job. Learn some relaxation techniques, whether it’s thinking of a particular song in times of stress or just taking a deep breath to calm down. Think about the important things that have stayed the same, even while the outside world is changing. When you talk about bad times, make sure you talk about good times as well.

You can learn resilience. But just because you learn resilience doesn’t mean you won’t feel stressed or anxious. You might have times when you aren’t happy – and that’s OK. Resilience is a journey, and each person will take his or her own time along the way. You may benefit from some of the resilience tips above, while some of your friends may benefit from others. The skills of resilience will be useful even after war, and they are good skills to have every day.

Places to look for additional help

Getting help when you need it is crucial in building resilience. Beyond caring family members and friends, people often find it helpful to turn to:

Support groups. Sharing information, ideas and emotions help group members know they’re not alone in experiencing difficulty.

Books and other publications by people who have survived a war can motivate readers to find a strategy that might work for them personally.

Online resources. Information on the Web can be a helpful source of ideas, though the quality of the information can vary. For many, using their own resources and the kinds of help listed above may be sufficient for building resilience in a time of war. At times, however, an individual might get stuck or have difficulty making progress on the road to resilience.

A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist people in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It’s important to get professional help if you struggle through daily living.

Sections taken from American Psychological Association brochure “Resilience in a Time of War.”
For a list of contributors, please go to the APA web site.
Compiled by Marcia Eisenberg for the University Counseling Center