Coping and Resilience

Brandy Robertson and Sheryl Prouse

Consider that as a post-secondary student you are going to experience three major transition periods: moving into the post-secondary environment (from high school or the workforce); moving through the post-secondary environment (the time spent studying in your program); and moving on, or preparing to leave the educational environment (completing your program and entering the workforce). As you move through these transition phases the demands on your time are going to change, the role you play in your life and others’ lives will change, and the way you think and feel about yourself is going to change in order to cope with all of these changes! Each transition is going to require unique coping skills to deal with the changing experiences.

Coping Strategies

There are three main coping dimensions that contain both positive, effective coping strategies and negative, ineffective coping strategies:

Let’s apply these strategies to an example. As you’re reading through, try to think of a stressful situation that you have already encountered in the post-secondary environment or one that you anticipate is likely to occur at some point on your journey through college.

Example Scenario

It is December 8 and in the next week all of the major assignments for all of your classes are due and the week after that exams begin. You’ve enjoyed your classes for the most part and have kept up with the demands of a full course load while also working part time. You’ve already requested time off to prepare for and write your exams but as you go through your exam schedule again in detail you realize that you mixed up two of the dates and requested the wrong day off; you are scheduled to work the day of one of your exams. You immediately communicate with your employer but are told that two other employees already have that particular day off so your request is denied.

Problem-Focused Coping

  • Active coping: Call the instructor for the course that the exam is in and explain your situation.
  • Planning: Sit down and make a list of the tasks you need to complete to address the issue.
  • Suppression of competing activities: Stay awake all night pining over your predicament and don’t get any sleep.
  • Restraint coping: Decide not to contact your instructor until the following morning so that you can calm down and rationalize your communication.
  • Seeking instrumental social support: Contact your Student Success advisor for assistance.

Emotion-Focused Coping

  • Seeking emotional social support: Contact your friends and express your panic.
  • Positive reinterpretation: Recognize this experience has taught you some valuable problem-solving skills.
  • Acceptance: Recognize that mistakes happen and that if you are not able to write the exam on a different date that you may need to retake the class.
  • Denial: Tell yourself that there is no way you could have made a mistake with your scheduling; the error must be on the part of your employer or your instructor and they’ll fix it.

Coping by Disengagement

  • Focusing on and venting emotions: Call your parent in a panic and spend half an hour telling them how angry, upset, and frustrated you are.
  • Behavioural disengagement: Assume that there is nothing you can do about the scheduling conflict and just go on with your daily tasks.
  • Mental disengagement: Play video games to distract you from thinking about the issue.


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College Foundations Copyright © 2022 by Brandy Robertson and Sheryl Prouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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