Much of the scientific research on resilience — our ability to bounce back from adversity — has focused on how to build it in children. But science shows that adults also can take steps to boost resilience in middle age, when many of us face all kinds of stressors: divorce, the death of a parent, career setbacks, retirement worries. Scientists say it is important to think of resilience as an emotional muscle that can be strengthened at any time.
Here are some of the ways you can build your resilience:
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. So if you were born into a family of Eeyores, you can still find your inner Tigger. After a job loss, for instance, many people may say, “I’ll never recover.” An optimist would say, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals.” Dr. Steven Southwick, a psychiatry professor at Yale Medical School, said optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious.
Rewrite your story Last year, Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, was shot by a disgruntled former employee. When he was recovering, he knew that his life was changed, but he focused on the opportunity the setback presented. “Once you are a trauma victim it stays with you,” he said. “But I knew I could be a role model.”
We have a tendency to blame ourselves and to ruminate about what we should have done differently. Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said, “Telling yourself that a situation is not personal, pervasive or permanent can be extremely useful. There is almost no failure that is totally personal.” Instead, focus on the next steps you should take.
When times are tough, we often remind ourselves that other people, like war refugees or a friend with cancer, have it worse. But Grant said you will get a bigger boost by reminding yourself of the challenge you have overcome. He said to remind yourself, “I’ve gone through something worse in the past. This is not the most horrible thing I have ever faced or will ever face. I know I can deal with it.’ ”
Resilience studies show that people are more resilient when they have strong support networks of friends and family to help them cope with a crisis. But you can get an even bigger resilience boost by giving support. In a 2017 study of psychological resilience among U.S. military veterans, higher levels of gratitude, altruism and a sense of purpose predicted resiliency.
rest and practice
Times of manageable stress present an opportunity to build resilience. The key, said wellness expert Jack Groppel, is to recognize that you will never eliminate stress. Instead create opportunities to recover from it, such as by taking a walk break. And build your resilience by putting yourself in challenging situations. Take an adventure vacation. Run a triathlon. Share your secret poetry skills with strangers.