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Wellness: Another Vacation Day

Posted August 25, 2017

Wellness is a special blog series that aims to promote an honest, open, and supportive culture of physical and mental health on campus.

In this installment, Director of Counseling, Disability and Tutoring Services, Darcy Storms, LMSW shares her thoughts on how to respond to stressful situations by building resilience.

Director of Counseling and Disability Services Darcy StormsDarcy Storms

Last summer, I was on an international flight with my three young children. After the 9 hour flight, we were to have a layover in Chicago and then a short flight home. Upon landing in Chicago, I checked the flight board and learned all flights were on time, except ours, which was not just delayed but marked with a dreaded red “Cancelled.” To make matters worse, the next available flight was not until the next day in the afternoon. Needless to say, I was tired, frustrated, upset, and on the verge of tears. 

Even if you have not been in this exact situation, you likely have felt similar emotions in response to a stressful event. We have all felt tired, frustrated, angry, and sad at various points, and will inevitably feel so again in the future. 

How we respond to stressful situations can tell us a great deal about our resilience. Resilience is something we can develop. We can nurture good or bad habits based on how we respond emotionally and behaviorally after an event. How we talk to ourselves and what we do with our emotions is important to building resilience and reducing the harmful effects of a stressful situation. 

What do I mean by this? Let me take you back to my recent travel misadventure. When I told my kids we had to stay at a hotel another night, they responded with smiles and excitement and asked if we could go to the pool! As we were waiting for the hotel shuttle, the kids became hungry and the only restaurant in sight was McDonald's. Before long, they were picnicking on the airport curb in their pajamas. Although not an ideal solution in my eyes, it was effective and earned me some serious “Best Mom” points! 

Kids wait at the airport eating dinner

Their reaction made me ask myself why I was so frustrated while they were so excited.  Maybe, I thought, just maybe, I could be excited too and make another vacation day out of this?

Throughout the two--hour process of getting flights rebooked, learning half our luggage was lost, and getting through the airport, I tried a few techniques to reduce my emotional frustration by reframing my thought process.  I told myself no one was hurt, we would eventually get home, it could be worse, it is just an inconvenience, maybe I could learn something from this situation, and I will have a good story later.  Although these thoughts did not change the situation, it changed how I looked at the problem, how I proceeded, and how I felt.

I did start blaming the airline (a few times), but decided that pointing fingers was not helping the situation, only furthering negative thoughts and emotions.  I also realized I could not change the situation, so I focused on accepting my reality and making the most out of it. 

Here are some ideas for building resilience and gaining valuable perspective during a stressful event. 

·       Focus on what you have rather than what you have lost.

·       Immerse yourself in relationships or be around other people.

·       Find a different viewpoint – Ask yourself “What would _______ do?  What has worked before? What are other ways of looking at this?”

·       Trust your ability to make it through a stressful situation.

·       Ask yourself, “What should I do first?” rather than thinking you have to have everything figured out at once. 

·       Avoid generalizing.  When stressful situations happen we make statements such as “this always happens to me,” or “I’m not good at anything”.

·       Exercise can be used during a stressful moment as a distraction and if done on an ongoing basis can help increase neurochemicals that aid in reducing stress.

·       Talk it out – Many times talking can lead to solutions and soften your reaction to the precipitating event.

In case you were wondering, we made it to the hotel, had a good night sleep, went to the pool, and had (thankfully) an uneventful flight home.  I could have been mad all night and the next day but instead, I made the most of the situation and had another fun day of vacation with my family.

Regardless of the situation, we have a choice on how we respond after a stressful event.  Next time you get a bad critique, or argue with a friend, or face an unforeseen challenge at home or at work, take a deep breath and try to look at the situation from a broader perspective.  You’ll almost always come out of it better prepared to deal with stress in the future.


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