3 Ways to Be Resilient and Thrive as Older Adults
If you have lived here as long as I have on this earth, you will agree that stress is a part of life. So, why do we still complain about it? After all, wasn’t life harsher for our parents and grandparents? Did they not experience more adversity in life than we have? Whatever form stress takes, it is here to stay. Is it because at some deep level, “we need to have challenge, something to test our mettle, prove our resilience, and make us stronger?” That question is posed by Dr. Joel Bennett in his book Raw Coping Power: From Stress to Thriving. Dr. Bennett believes we have the innate or inborn capacity to cope with stress, and that as human beings we are “hard-wired” to know how to deal with difficult situations. Here are three ways we can be resilient and thrive as older adults.
Remember the Lessons and Learn
Resilience is our inborn or innate capacity to meet stress head-on and transform stress into growth. It is not just the ability to bounce back, but also to learn from the challenge. Many times, we hear the expression “bounce back after a setback,” but we do not also consider the lessons that we need to learn in order to continue to grow as human beings. Continual growth is necessary to remain healthy. Our culture tends to tell us that in life we go to school, then we go to work, then retire. But what if life is the schoolteacher? That would mean we attend school our entire lives. So, in order to be resilient and thrive as older adults we must choose to continue to learn, or else we would find, as C. S. Lewis reminds us, “experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn.”
Look for the Opportunities of Growth
We can turn our stress into opportunities of growth. What if we practiced looking at a stressor as an opportunity of growth? How can we grow from this challenge we are facing? A stressor has two components: one, a reality component, and two, our internal thoughts and judgments. Our internal thoughts followed by our emotions and judgments add coal to the fire. In other words, they make the situation worse. It’s important to take a break—pause and breathe. One of the first things that will change in our bodies when we are stressed is our breathing: it becomes shallow. As a result, we have less oxygen moving throughout the body and the brain. Our thought pattern can become distorted. Hence, in order to move in the direction of becoming resilient, it’s important to stop and breathe. Mindfulness practices such as yoga, qigong and tai chi are excellent physical activities that can help relax the body and move it towards a state of wellness. These practices help to foster a healthy lifestyle for older adults.
Develop a Healthy Lifestyle as a Buffer
There are certain things in life, such as aging, we cannot control. But we can choose to control what we eat, how often we move, and how much sleep we get. In other words, we can control the lifestyle we have as adults. A healthy lifestyle buffers us against the effects of stress so that we are more ready to meet its challenges head-on and respond in a healthy way. So, here is another reason to be mindful about eating nutritious foods, to exercise when you do not want to, to go to bed rather than numbing out in front of the television, and to learn to relax the body without the help of a substance such as alcohol. A healthy lifestyle can move us from just getting by to being resilient and thriving as older adults. No doubt, life has thrown many of us some curveballs, but we always have a choice. We can choose how to respond.
Speaking of responding, I have finally sat down to read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl is a psychiatrist and a holocaust survivor. He adeptly uses words to paint a graphic and poignant picture of his time in various Nazi concentration camps. As I read each page, I questioned how any human being could survive such atrocious experiences. Some prisoners did not survive the holocaust, and some, like Frankl, lived to share and bear witness to the human being’s innate ability to cope with hardship, choose to be resilient, and then thrive.
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