Coping with Adversity in College

By Kelly Burch

College is full of good things: new friendships, self-discovery, interesting courses, and the opportunity to learn new skills. But there are also a lot of challenges and new experiences in college, and some difficulties. You might clash with your roommate, fail a test, or feel like you don’t fit in at your new school. Financial worries and family pressure can take a toll too. 

Everyone faces some adversity at college. Learning how to cope with adversity and get support when you need it is important on campus—and throughout your life. 

Here’s how to start. 

Define What You Want and Need

Sometimes when we’re facing a tough time, we just need to vent, let our emotions out, and talk them through. If you’ve just had an argument with your roommate or someone else, talking to a friend, going to the gym, or taking a walk can be a great release. 

In other situations, you need to do something to solve the problem. If you’ve failed a test or overdrawn your bank account, coming up with a plan of action can make you feel more in control and help you avoid further problems. 

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by a difficult experience, you’ll have an easier time deciding how to improve the situation when you know whether you need to do something to resolve the problem, or whether just processing with yourself (maybe journaling) or someone else will be enough. 

Build Resilience

Resilience is the ability to move through challenges. Resilience isn’t something you’re born with; it’s something you can develop over time. 

Growing your self-confidence and your coping skills will make you more resilient. So will being compassionate with yourself. Learn more about how you can develop resilience, and for more information, check out this resource from Cornell University

Rely on Your Community

Having someone—just one person—that you can really count on goes a long way toward building resilience and helping you cope with adversity. It’s great if you’ve made a new friend on campus. But your go-to person can also be someone from home: a friend or family member whom you call or text when things get tough. 

Whether they’re in person or remote, you just need one person you know you can always count on. And there are other places to find support, including faith groups, affinity groups, and special interest groups.

Learn more about finding your people

Know When to Give Yourself a Break

Coping with adversity is really tiring. It’s entirely OK to have a bad day when you just don’t feel like finding a solution. On those days, take care of yourself instead by:

  • Streaming your favorite series
  • Ordering yourself takeout or a small treat, like an iced coffee
  • Taking a nap out in the sunshine
  • Staying off social media and not checking the news
  • Laughing at your situation or making jokes—humor is healthy!

We all have occasional bad days, but if you’re having so many that you’re missing class regularly, reach out for help by contacting your campus mental health services

Celebrate Your Victories

Sometimes, it seems like life is a never-ending stream of adversity. You manage to get your chemistry grade back on track, only to have your tire blow out unexpectedly. As an adult, you’ve got to deal with lots of stressors, but you’ll feel better if you celebrate your wins along the way. Tell your parents about a good grade or write a journal entry congratulating yourself on good money management. 

Acknowledging the good work you’re doing will build your confidence and remind you about the skills you’ve learned. That way, when the next challenging event comes around, you’ll be even more prepared to handle it. 

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Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.