The Year of Living Resiliently.
I’m a big fan of MEA alum Elizabeth White’s idea of Resilience Circles. As we all know, it’s easy to feel alone when we’re faced with challenges in midlife and beyond. We need tools and resources to navigate this minefield (and hopefully turn it into a field of daisies).
One of the values of MEA—our workshops, regional chapters, and alumni networks—is the ability to use each other as part of this resilience "toolbox." As I’ve mentioned before (and it really can’t be said enough, "wisdom is not taught, it’s shared." We are each other’s own best resources.
However, there are other tools we can use to build up our resistance. This New York Times article about boosting resilience in midlife was published four years ago but has such relevance today as our societal turtle sticks its head outside of its pandemic shell. Here are some of the practices that are recommended in this article:
- Practice Optimism. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, "I’ll never recover from this." An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, "This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy."
- Rewrite Your Story. Study after study has shown that we can benefit from reframing the personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. In expressive writing studies, college students taught to reframe their college struggles as a growth opportunity got better grades and were less likely to drop out. A Harvard study found that people who viewed stress as a way to fuel better performance did better on tests and managed their stress better physiologically than those taught to ignore stress.
- Don’t Personalize It. We tend to blame ourselves for life’s setbacks and ruminate about what we should have done differently. In the moment, a difficult situation feels as if it will never end. To bolster your resilience, remind yourself that even if you made a mistake, many factors most likely contributed to the problem, then shift your focus to the next steps you should take.
- Remember Your Comebacks. "It’s easier to relate to your former self than someone in another country," says author Adam Grant. "Look back and say, '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.'"
- Support Others. 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 more significant resilience boost by giving support. Voila, consider a Resilience Circle.
- Take Stress Breaks. The key is to recognize that you will never eliminate stress from your life. Instead, create regular opportunities for the body to recover from stress — just as you would rest your muscles between weight lifting repetitions. Taking a walk break, spending five minutes to meditate, or having lunch with a good friend are ways to give your mind and body a break from stress.
- Go Out of Your Comfort Zone. Resilience doesn’t just come from negative experiences. You can build your resilience by putting yourself in challenging situations. “Your stress hormone systems will become less responsive to stress so you can handle stress better. Live your life in a way that you get the skills that enable you to handle stress.”
Finally, here’s an article that just appeared in the New York Times by Jane Brody about resilience and how it staves-off Alzheimer’s.