How to Strengthen Your Resilience

September is Healthy Aging Month, a 20-year-old celebration of the ways we can all ensure our well-being as we get older. Whether it’s taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, financially or otherwise, we can all take steps at any age to improve how we feel tomorrow.

That is certainly true of resilience. Psychological or emotional resilience can affect not just our state of mind, but our bodies as well. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), this type of resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”

We’ve all experienced a range of stressors. And together we’re all living through one enormous source of stress – the COVID pandemic, with its myriad effects on our daily lives. We might not be able to control all the sources of stress in our lives, but we can definitely control how much they affect us. While our resilience is partly genetic and partly a factor of our life experiences, it’s also the result of specific activities that we can start any time. Some have likened it to a muscle that gets stronger with use.

“Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop,” according to the APA. The APA suggests we focus on four areas in which to build our resilience: connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning.

What might that look like in everyday life?

  • Connection: Nurture those relationships that are most important to you. Try to have a meaningful interaction with someone every day. During COVID isolation, this can be as simple as making a phone call or writing a letter.
  • Wellness: Choose healthy foods and behaviors. Get the recommended amount of exercise. See your doctor and dentist regularly, adapted as appropriate during social distancing.
  • Healthy thinking: Challenge your negative thoughts. Are they making you mentally stronger or just more stressed? Consider meditation or practicing the idea of mindfulness – being present in the moment, rather than focusing on the past or worrying about the future.
  • Meaning: What would give your life more meaning? Would it be helping others? Learning something? Developing a spiritual or religious practice? Activities like these can provide the added bonus of helping us forget our worries for a while.

Remember, this is a muscle we’re building. We can and should take manageable steps rather than trying to run a marathon on day one. We humans are creatures of habit, and habits become safe places. But building resilience can become a safe habit of its own – and one that is proven to improve our lives. “Resilient people are better able to heal, stay mentally and physically healthy, and maintain mobility or cognitive function,” note Basil Eldadah and Lis Nielsen, researchers at the National Institute on Aging.

Fortunately, we can improve our resilience at any age. One small step is all you need to start.