Staying strong when your resilience has taken a hit

by Mar 26, 2021

When I started thinking about what to write for this blog, I knew I wanted to target international students, so I went straight to the source: our Career Interns who started at UTS as international students themselves. Something one of them said really stood out to me: “The only certainty is uncertainty.”

This particular intern had started with:

“I would love to know about your tips on stress management. I think many international students juggle multiple jobs on top of the full-time course load. It can be quite overwhelming, not to mention the physical and mental burnout. It is essential to have stress management practices handy in the hardest of times and be aware of our own mental health.”

The year 2020 stretched my resilience to almost breaking point, as it did to most of us.

Dealing with the unknown continuously for a prolonged period of time really made me tired of telling myself or hearing from others, “it’ll be fine” or “everything will be alright”. This was how I was feeling by December 2020: absolutely exhausted; mentally, emotional and physically. I caught an Uber home on my last of work because I felt so emotional – overwhelmed that I survived 2020 (personally and professionally), but angered and frustrated by yet another breakout of the virus which then left me jittery from extreme anxiety by the end of the day.

In May 2020, two months into working from home full-time, I wrote about exercising your resilience where I outlined what I was doing to not over-stretch my resilience levels. I think of resilience as an elastic band that you can only stretch so far before it loses its elasticity to bounce back.

Why then was I so exhausted and overwhelmed if I had followed my own strategies? The short of it was that I was no longer keeping up with all these strategies. At the end of the year, I reviewed the Resilience Building Plan Worksheet (developed by Associate Professor Sydney Ey, Ph.D. at Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University) and dissected the below 8 points.

1. Recognise Your Signs of Stress

I knew I was stressed but I wasn’t doing enough to rest and rejuvenate.

2. Focus on Building Physical Hardiness

I had stopped my weekday 20 minute exercises and it was getting harder to have regular hours of sleep.

3. Strengthen the Relaxation Response – Calm Body and Calm Mind

I did increase how much meditation I was doing to include short 3 minute ones during the day.

4. Identify and Use Your Strengths

Things were happening so quickly, day to day and week to week, that planning for the year went out the window. It was more realistic to have many back-up plans within a month and be ready to pivot depending on the direction of the worldwide situation and the direction the university would take accordingly.

5. Increase Positive Emotions on a Daily Basis

It was harder to acknowledge achievements and to have gratitude on a daily basis but I kept trying when I could. If I stopped trying, then negative emotions would start building up to become the norm in my style of thinking.

6. Engage in Meaningful Activities

It was harder to do gardening, cook nice meals and watch documentaries when I was tired a lot of the times, but I tried when I could and also tried to reduce how much I beat myself up if I couldn’t manage it.

7. Counter Unhelpful Thinking

I acknowledged and identified cognitive distortions daily but I was no longer consistently countering them with constructive thoughts.

8. Create a Caring Community

Due my level of tiredness I was no longer making the effort of keeping up with family and friends with regular calls or texts.


As you do when you’re struggling to achieve your goals, I reviewed and adjusted where I was struggling and spent most of my 2 weeks off from work with a lot of extra self-care and self-nurturing activities. It included not planning my days to such detail and giving myself lots of time to do what I wanted to do when I felt like it, rather than trying to fit in as much as possible in a day.

I started catching up with family and friends more (in-person and virtually) as working from home last year resulted in my natural introversion being strengthened, and reversing all the work I’d done over the years to counter my strong introversion.

I also started countering specific cognitive distortions better with more realistic and believable replacements. For example, I’m not working fast and smart enough was replaced with, 2020 was an unprecedented year and as long as I’m doing the best I can with the capacity that I have I am GOOD ENOUGH.

I am continuing to adjust my strategies as we now move to the hybrid form of working, both from home and from the office. Self-awareness is key to managing your stress and maintaining your resilience.

One of my colleagues made a good point – there will be times when it seems you’re putting in so much effort but the reward or your achievements seems insignificant. This was very useful for me this year because I know I am a results-oriented person and I need to focus on activities which “feed” me and not those that “drain” me. The more stressed you are (especially if it’s prolonged), the more important it is to increase your level of self-care.

From my experience and from working with international students over the years, I feel the international student experience enables you to strengthen your resilience. It’s important to know your limits, accept and reframe your reality, and regularly review your goals and strategies (in whatever you’re working on) so you continue to have grit.

Angela Duckworth defines grit as,

“… passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It combines resilience, ambition, and self-control in the pursuit of goals that take months, years, or even decades.”


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

By Esita Sogotubu

By Esita Sogotubu

Employability Manager

Esita Sogotubu is an experienced career development practitioner with 10 years of service at UTS Careers. She has worked in hospitality and was a newspaper reporter in another life. As an Employability Manager she is a great believer of self-awareness being key to personal and professional development and success. Her work in the Career Programs Team has included the Accomplish Award and Univative. She has a particular interest and passion for international students, as she was one herself.