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Staying resilient into your later years

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November 26th, 2013

If I had to choose one single attribute that is fundamental to aging, well, it would be resiliency.

Resiliency has many definitions, but it is quite simply our ability to get through difficult times and maintain a sense of self and well-being in the process. It is our ability to bounce back. No life is free of negative circumstance—what is most important is how we react to untoward events and whether we are prepared for the next one coming around the bend.

In a Harvard School of Adult Development study spanning over 70 years, researchers found that how we respond to and overcome troubles is a more important determinant of healthy aging than the actual amount and type of difficulties we encounter.

Building better resilience

Being resilient is thus highly desirable and we all possess some degree of resilience, primarily based upon heredity, our life experiences, and personal motivations. The very good news is that you can improve your resiliency through practice and perseverance. Bob Wicks, a leading expert, writes in his book Bounce that we can move to greater resilience by “minimizing the effects of stress, cultivating an inner life, and developing new skills and actions that can help us thrive rather than merely survive.”

We must start with understanding ourselves and knowing which factors in our lives cause stress and how much that stress affects our everyday functioning. For example, one person with diabetes may not mind having to check their blood sugar regularly and can fit it into their daily routine easily. But someone else may find the process difficult and inconvenient, so they worry about it and skip testing frequently. This uses up precious emotional energy and can also have serious health consequences.

Improving personal resilience may involve caring for your physical well-being by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep, but it also may require some emotional work such as putting things into perspective and maintaining a positive attitude through setbacks and disappointments. The most resilient among us also have solid social networks. Studies show good social support decreases your risk of becoming physically ill and cognitively impaired, and also lowers your overall risk of death.

Building your resiliency takes focus and practice and is well worth the effort. Consider a guide such as the book Bounce to help in the process. The ancient message “heal thyself” still rings true today.

 

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