When Dutch researched asked 600 people 85 and older to identify the key component of successful aging, they came up with one that even surprised the experts. It was psychological health. But rather than defining psychological health as the lack of depression or other mental health conditions, they told researches it meant being able to adjust to circumstances, focus on gains rather than losses, and appreciate your blessings.
Another word for this? Resilience.
Resilience is why certain kids who grow up surrounded by poverty or cruelty still manage to get in to top universities and become successful. It’s why some people rebuild after hurricanes, despite the challenges and hardships. It’s why you say of someone who’s just been diagnosed with cancer or who has just lost a husband or whose business has just failed: “I can’t believe how wells she’s handling this.” We like to think of a resilient person as a human rubber band – able to be stretched to the breaking point and still snap back.
What resilience is not, says John Stuart Hall, PhD, professor of public affairs at Arizona State University in Phoenix and a pioneer in the area of resilience in older adults, is “positive psychology”, or always “looking on the bright side.” Instead, he explains, resilience is “having a balanced perspective and understanding that there are going to be daily challenges.” It’s being able to focus on your assets instead of your weaknesses. Resilient people, he says, “Learn to value themselves and to look for measures of their successes, not failures.”
Everyone has some measure of resilience, says aging expert Adam Davey, PhD, associate professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. But older adults should be more resilient because of the wisdom they’ve gained from decades of coping with challenging situations. “This enables them to draw on their wealth of experience to come up with solutions to the current situation,” Dr. Davey explains. Thus, if you’re faced with financial trouble for instance, you can think back to another time this happened and draw strength from the fact that you managed the situation then, so you can manage it now.
Resilience really comes into play when you’re confronted with stress. If you’re resilient, studies find, you recover from stress faster, reducing the damaging impact it can have on your body and readying yourself more quickly for the next challenge.
Researchers have identified certain common traits of resilient people. How many apply to you?
In my next blog I will give you some important steps you can do today to improve your resilience. Come back on Wednesday to read about these important steps.
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