Stressors test students’ mental strength

Suzanna Creasey and Isabel Vayser, Staff Writers

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Junior Rachel Patris throws the shot put during track practice after school. Track is one of the many activities that Patris balances in her life along with schoolwork. Photo by Nora Smith

When senior Will Congbalay feels overwhelmed with the workload of his classes, including four AP courses, he takes out his ukulele and plays for five to 15 minutes to regain his focus. He taught himself ukulele in October as a means of reducing stress. The ukulele grounds Congbalay when AP classes test his mental strength.

During a phone interview, Amy Morin, licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, said mental strength is the ability to cope with adversity, move past self doubt, reach out for help, establish social and emotional balance and treat oneself kindly.

“[Mental strength is] all about the conversations you have with yourself,” said Morin. “Sometimes it’s helpful to say, ‘What advice would I give my friend if [he or she] came to me with this problem?’ because normally we won’t be nearly as mean to our friends as we are [to] ourselves.”

Congbalay said he stays mentally strong by telling himself to focus on assignments due the next day rather than studying for AP tests or working on projects due in upcoming weeks. Although he can usually finish his homework in time to fit with his sleep schedule, Congbalay prioritizes sleep, even considering the risk that he will not finish his homework in time.

“If I don’t get sleep, I’m very irritable, I can’t pay attention in class, I just can’t focus overall and then my homework later is a lot slower,” Congbalay said.

Morin said mentally strong individuals are willing to take risks, even with a chance of disappointment, since they can help students discover their capabilities.

“When [mentally strong people] are nervous about doing something, they’re willing to do it even if their voice is shaky, and their hands are trembling,” said Morin. “[They tell themselves] ‘It’s hard to do, but I’m going to do my best anyway.’”

It is crucial to ask for help when stressful situations arise, said Morin. Improved resilience is observed in students who feel personally connected to adults in their lives and are comfortable seeking support from people other than their parents.

“I always encourage teens to come up with a list of five people you can talk to,” said Morin. “And maybe it’s not your parents, but maybe you have a coach, or a teacher, or a guidance counselor, or an aunt or uncle or somebody that you can talk to.”

Junior Rachel Patris said reaching out to trusted individuals is essential to her mental resilience. She finds comfort in knowing that she can go to her friends, family and the Glenbrook North social workers for support.

“Sophomore and junior year, I started realizing how important it was to utilize the resources [at GBN] and utilize my friends and my family because they all [care] about me,” Patris said.

According to Patris, mentally strong individuals are not only those who have already achieved their goals, but also those who are willing to carry on despite difficulty and fear of failure.

“Someone who’s mentally strong is perceived to be … not under a lot of stress or [is seen as having] everything under control and [seems] happy all the time,” said Patris. “But I think that perception is so completely wrong, and I think the people who are the most mentally tough or resilient are the people who are stressed and still manage to get up and come to school every day.”

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Stressors test students’ mental strength