Resilience While Aging

Resilience While Aging


Resilience is even more important when aging. Luckily, it’s a skill that can be strengthened.

Positive thinking, some say, is the path to happiness. “Think happy—be happy.” Is it really as simple as that? And if so, does this apply to resilience as well? As I see it, happiness and resilience go hand in hand.

I may be humming along in my happy life until some form of trauma or tragedy strikes. Without resilience, my happiness is shattered. Positive thinking doesn’t fix a broken heart. When times get tough, we need a strong dose of resilience to keep us going.

Now that I’m in my 70s, I find myself paying more attention to resilience and its importance in my life. When I was younger, I tended to take resilience for granted. Falling down generally meant getting back up and continuing on my way. If I tried something and it didn’t work, I’d try something else. Resilience at a younger age seemed to work something like shock absorbers on a car. The shock absorbers were there, and they did their job.

One reason for shock absorbers on cars is to keep the tires on the ground. As we age, we face all kinds of bumps on the road. It’s thus wise to be on the lookout for what can keep us grounded and safe.

I know that my physical shock absorbers aren’t what they used to be. I thus do what I can to avoid falling. I’m also concerned about emotional bumps along the way, which are often beyond my control. Thankfully, resilience isn’t static; it’s not a fixed trait. Resilience is a skill that can be refined and strengthened.

With aging comes changes in our physical health. Such changes tend to place limitations on what we can do. For many of us, this means letting go of some of the activities we once enjoyed. I know I can’t hike as far or as strenuously as I did when I was younger. Cutting back on hiking and some of my other favorite activities has resulted in more time alone. The death of friends and family members over the past few years has also increased my feelings of aloneness.

I try to stay physically resilient through yoga and other forms of exercise. I want to be emotionally resilient, as well, so that I have what it takes to cope with changes that come with aging. As I see it, emotional resilience is an attitude that can help me get through difficult times with equanimity. It helps me keep all four wheels on the ground. But I believe that emotional resilience has more to offer than just helping me survive my aging years. In fact, I don’t want to just survive; I want to flourish. With emotional resilience, I believe I can have a life that is stimulating and enjoyable even as I get older.

Resilience has two components—one mental, one behavioral. To build resilience, we need to focus on both. I found several practices helpful in shoring up emotional resilience during my aging years.

For the mental component, I focus on embracing change. I know that rigidity is one of the biggest obstacles to resilience, and that the resilient self makes choices. I choose to adapt. I believe that with the right attitude, I can adapt to almost anything. I know I must adapt in order to thrive in a changing world. The world changes as I grow older; so do I. I believe that embracing change and adapting to it are keys to a life well-lived during my senior years.

For the behavior component of resilience, I engage emotional shock absorbers that work for me. My shock absorbers are rather simple: reading, writing poetry, going for a walk, watering my plants, talking to a friend. Engaging these shock absorbers helps to keep me safe and grounded.

Brittle bones, brittle fingernails, brittle teeth, brittle hair—these are signs of aging. Things that are brittle tend to break easily. My hope, as I age, is that I can protect my spirit from becoming brittle. I don’t want my spirit to break. I look to emotional resilience as a way to stay flexible and strong.

I once used the mantra “love the life you have” as a guide to living life more fully. I’ve changed that a bit over the years to reflect what I now realize is a healthier and more realistic intention. I now use the mantra “embrace the life you have.” I find that this mantra, along with some simple shock absorbers, serve me well in being more emotionally resilient as I age.

Keep reading about aging: “6 Stories on Aging Gracefully.”

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