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How Seniors Can Develop a Resilience Toolkit

Kimberley Fowler
By Kimberley FowlerJanuary 12, 2018
How Seniors Can Develop a Resilience Toolkit

Life is full of ups and downs, but people have an uncanny ability to get up, dust themselves off and keep going. It’s this ability to continue in the face of adversity that is such an important trait in people of all ages, but especially in seniors who are dealing with greater health and financial issues, the passing of friends and loved ones, and in some cases increased social isolation.

But are people born resilient, or is this a skill that is developed?

Are You Born Resilient?

Last year, Edith Cooper, the Global Head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs wrote an article entitled “The Resilience Toolkit” in which she argues that resilience is not an inherent personality trait but a skill that can be developed.

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A study on the impact of resilience among older adults by MacLeod et. al., was recently published in Geriatric Nursing and substantiates Cooper’s belief, finding that while resiliency is a personality trait, resilience is a process that can be learned. The American Psychological Association (APA), also defines resilience as a process. This distinction is important because while personality traits tend to be fixed, processes are inherently fluid, which means that seniors can learn resilience.

If resilience is a skill, then it’s one that seniors should look to cultivate. MacLeod’s study found that resilience in seniors is linked with a longer life, lower instances of depression and better overall aging. But what does resilience look like and how can seniors develop this skill?

How to Develop a Resilience Toolkit

Cooper suggests that resilience can be cultivated using the right “tools,” which she believes includes:

  • Asking for help: Cooper argues that resilient people rely on their support network, asking for help and accepting it when it’s offered. “No one can do it alone,” she says.
  • Finding meaning and purpose in life (beyond the workplace): From caring for family members to volunteering, studies show that seniors who have a purpose are happier and healthier.
  • Focus on what you can control: Like how you respond to situations and your outlook on life.
  • Learning from our mistakes: Rather than fearing failure, people who see mistakes as an opportunity to learn typically emerge from difficult situations stronger and more prepared for future challenges.
  • Nurture your relationships: “Our happiness stems from the company we keep,” Cooper says. “Take time to laugh and connect with the people you love and care about.”
  • Recharge your energy and stay active: Numerous studies show that seniors who remain physically active are mentally and physically healthier.

While Cooper’s tools can be cultivated by anyone who wants to become more resilient, there are some additional factors that are critical for seniors:

1. Having a Positive Attitude Towards Aging

According to a study led by Dr. Jennifer Bellingtier, which examined the attitudes of seniors aged 65-96, having a positive attitude about aging was associated with greater resilience.

The study asked participants about any stress or other negative emotions that they felt in their day to day lives, as well as existential questions like whether they thought they were as happy or useful as when they were younger. The results were clear.

“We found that people in the study who had more positive attitudes toward aging were more resilient in response to stress,” Bellingtier says.

2. Learning to Embrace Change

Author and board-certified psychologist, Dr. Morton H. Shaevitz, says the key to being a resilient senior is to “embrace the new normal.” For Shaevitz, who is a senior himself, the ‘new normal’ is “that many of us will be dealing with an increasing number of medical problems, but will be living full and active lives.”

Accepting the health limitations that come with aging while also continuing to live a full life is a critical tool for resilient older adults. In fact, one of the most important ways to be resilient is to live a full and happy life.

While a full life means different things to different people, one study has found that creating art is an effective method of building resilience. In addition to taking up art, Shaevitz provides further advice to seniors for enjoying life, embracing the ‘new normal’ and building resilience, including:

No matter our age, resilience is important to our happiness and success. But for seniors who face additional challenges, resilience is an important tool; one that can be cultivated and developed.

How do you cultivate resilience in your day-to-day life? We’d love to hear what’s in your resilience toolkit, in the comments below.

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Kimberley Fowler
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Kimberley Fowler

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