Stress & Building Resilience

Stress is our automatic response to stressors in our environment — demands, pressures, or competing priorities, for example. Stress in and of itself is not bad, and can actually, at relatively low levels help motivate us to achieve our goals. Too much stress, or high levels of stress over long periods of time, can have negative impacts on our well-being. None of us can avoid stress altogether, so it’s important to learn how to manage it, respond to it, and balance stressors with enjoyable activities.

Signs of Stress

All of these signs or symptoms are okay once in a while, or if you’re going through a difficult time, but stress starts to become more of a concern if these symptoms last for long periods and interfere with your ability to feel relaxed or calm again after a period of stress. Here are some signs that your stress level may be too high.

  • Irritability or anger
  • Anxiety, fear, or worry
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sadness, crying, depression, or hopelessness
  • Loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities

  • Difficulty retaining information from lectures or readings
  • Unwanted or repetitive thoughts
  • Poor concentration, disorganization, forgetfulness
  • Deterioration in quality/quantity of work

  • Muscle tension
  • Frequent illness (caused by decreased immune system)
  • Stomach aches, diarrhea or constipation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue, exhaustion
  • Headaches, vague aches/pains
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Heart palpitations

Managing Stress

Responding to stress and managing that response rests in our ability to shift our mindset. How you think about and respond to daily situations determines whether you find those stressors manageable or overwhelming. Here are some ways to check in with yourself and manage your stress:

  • Take care of yourself — prioritize getting enough sleep, eat healthy and balanced meals, and exercise
  • Connect with others — strong social support networks help mitigate stress and support overall improved mental health
  • Improve time management skills — try to stay organized with planners, calendars, and designating days or blocks of time to work on specific assignments. Reach out to professors early if you’re struggling or anticipate having trouble meeting a deadline
  • Combat stress culture — Hoyas pride themselves on how much they can pack into their schedules, but this game of who can do more and who is more stressed harms everyone in the long run. Remember that stress doesn’t make you more successful, it just makes each day harder along the way
  • Let go of perfectionism — a lot of students, especially Georgetown students, have high expectations for themselves. Be kind and compassionate with yourself if you don’t or can’t always meet those expectations. Re-evaluate your standards. Perfection doesn’t exist
  • Reframe, and keep things in perspective — Avoid negative self-talk, and actually give yourself credit for your capabilities and what you’ve accomplished. Mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn and grow, they are not the worst things that could happen


Building and practicing resilience is also another way to help manage stress. Resilience is our ability to cope with stress and adversity and grow through the experience. Cultivating resilience through daily habits of positive self-talk, physical activity, and reaching out for support can help you bounce back from stress and challenges more easily.  Resilience is not a fixed state or something that you achieve and then have forever. Some people are more resilient at different times in their lives, and resilience can be learned and strengthened through practice and development. Resilience can be built through social engagement, self-awareness and self-care, attention and focus, finding meaning, and a “growth mindset.”

  • Social Engagement: cultivating social connections, avoiding social isolation, building positive peer relationships and supportive interactions with friends and family
  • Self-awareness: understanding one’s own strengths, weaknesses, emotions, values, natural inclinations, tendencies, and motivation
  • Self-care: behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes that support emotional well-being and physical health
  • Attention and Focus: tuning out information, sensations, and perceptions that are not relevant in the current moment, focusing energy on information that is important
  • Finding Meaning: making sense of and finding the significance in an experience or situation, which can contribute to more of a sense of positive mental health
  • “Growth Mindset”: the opposite of a “fixed mindset,” when you believe that your intelligence and your abilities are fixed that are innate and unchangeable. A “growth mindset” emphasizes learning from challenges, and increasing intelligence and abilities from these experiences

Adapted with permission of Cornell Health (4/20)