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The impact of temporary personal difficulties / crises on the fulfilment of students’ duties – coping methods

It does not matter whether you are a student of mathematics, law or medicine. It does not matter what your beliefs are or what your values are. We all experience temporary difficulties in life. They may concern personal, family or professional matters, and they are influenced by various situations for which we are not always prepared.

The causes of crises may include an illness or the death of someone close, difficulties in a relationship, separation, the experience of violence, experiencing a traumatic event such as being a victim or witness of an accident. Sometimes these are problems related to excessive responsibilities at work or at university, a huge amount of material which is difficult to master, or too fast and intense pace of learning. Difficulties also arise in connection with moving to a new city, moving away from parents and the feeling of loneliness due to the distance from the family. Finally, situations beyond our control, such as a sudden loss of a job, a deterioration of living and economic conditions or a pandemic can be a reason for experiencing difficulties.

Not every difficult experience is called a crisis. Often, we fall into crisis as a result of the accumulation of various complex and unforeseen situations happening at the same time. Many theories of crisis have been developed over the years. According to researchers James and Gilliand, a crisis ‘is feeling or experiencing an event or situation as an unbearable difficulty, exhausting one’s resources of resilience and compromising one’s coping mechanisms. If the person in crisis is not supported, the crisis may become a cause of severe disorders’1 .

Another psychological concept of W. Badura-Madej defines a crisis as ‘a temporary state of internal imbalance, caused by a critical event or life events, requiring significant changes and decisions’ 2.

In psychological practice, the words ‘stress’ and ‘crisis’ can be heard interchangeably.

However, these terms are not the same. The following features indicate that we are very likely to be dealing with a crisis: the presence of an acute critical event or chronic stress; the perception of an event as unexpected; the perception of a situation as a loss, threat or challenge; the experience of negative emotions by a person; the feeling of uncertainty about the future; the feeling of loss of control; a sudden change in bahaviour, rhythm of the day or habits; a state of emotional tension and the need to change the current way of functioning. The above-mentioned characteristics also significantly affect the ability to study, concentrate and learn. One of the features accompanying critical events is the lack of motivation to study and the inability to concentrate. Lack of concentration and attention may also be one of the signs that we are experiencing a crisis. It is also important to remember that every crisis is a subjective experience. This means that it is a very individual reaction of a person to the circumstances. What may cause a state of crisis for one person is just an ordinary situation for another one.

Are the crises/transitional difficulties we experience a threat? Definitely yes, because they can overwhelm a person to the extent of leading to serious pathological behaviour, including self-destruction, mutilation or suicide. A crisis is also an opportunity for change, because the suffering it causes makes the person somehow compelled to seek help. If someone takes advantage of such assistance, it will help him or her in self-development and self-fulfilment. Then we can speak of a certain change that takes place in the perception and functioning of the person, i.e., the positive solution/overcoming of the crisis. On the other hand, if the crisis lasts longer and then becomes chronic, i.e. the states of emotional tension or stress persist much longer (a few weeks/months), are accompanied by anxiety, depression, and it is not possible to return to functioning from before the crisis, then more severe conditions may arise, e.g. adaptation disorders.

A skill that can be learned or, with the help of a psychologist/therapist, extracted from one’s resources in order to cope better with crises is the so-called resilience, i.e. inner strength and the ability to adapt to changing conditions. It is a process of becoming more resilient, gaining lost strength and resistance to the harmful factors to which you are exposed throughout your life.

When you lack the ability to cope with difficult situations, i.e. it takes you a long time to get back to the emotional equilibrium from before the crisis, your mood does not improve and functioning is significantly impaired, it is worth remembering that there are places, institutions and people who provide such support. In every bigger city there are Crisis Intervention Centres where experienced crisis intervention specialists, psychologists and therapists work and provide round-the-clock support. This assistance is free of charge and everyone can take advantage of it. For students of the Jagiellonian University assistance is provided by the Jagiellonian University Student Centre for Support and Adaptation. You can also obtain help by calling a helpline for people in crisis. It is important not to be alone when experiencing difficulties, it is always better to seek help and professional support.


1Badura - Madej W., Wybrane zagadnienia interwencji kryzysowej, Wyd. Interart, Warszawa 1996, p. 16.

2Caplan G., Principles of preventive psychiatry, Wyd. Basic Books, New York 1964.

Reference literature

Badura - Madej W., Wybrane zagadnienia interwencji kryzysowej, Wyd. Interart, Warszawa 1996, p. 16.

Caplan G., Principles of preventive psychiatry, Wyd. Basic Books, New York 1964.

Gilliand B.E., James R.K, Crisis Intervention Strategies, Thomson Brooks/Cole Publishing Co, 1993, p. 34.


mgr Marzena Trytek psychologist at the Jagiellonian University Student Centre for Support and Adaptation, cognitive and behavioral psychotherapist