There is a common misconception that resilience — the ability to “come back” after life’s stresses, challenges, and traumas — is something people are either born with or not. But a recent New York Times article, “How to Boost Resilience in Midlife,” explains that resilience can be cultivated by anyone: “Scientists who study stress and resilience say it’s important to think of resilience as an emotional muscle that can be strengthened at any time. While it’s useful to build up resilience before a big or small crisis hits, there still are active steps you can take during and after a crisis to speed your emotional recovery.”

While ongoing toxic stress can have long-term negative health effects, doses of short-term stress can be very healthy and help to build resilience. As the piece notes, when we are exposed to reasonable doses of stress, it helps us get better at managing it: “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.” This article focuses on midlife specifically, but the skills mentioned within it can be practiced at any stage in life.

What you can do:

  • Practice Optimism. Practicing optimism is easier for some of us than others, but it simply comes down to examining our usual responses, and asking ourselves if there is another way to view the situation that might have some positive benefit. It also helps to spend time with people who help us to feel good about life.
  • Rewrite Your Story. We cannot change what has happened to us, but we can reframe how we look at it. What are some of the positive things that have emerged out of difficult life experiences you lived through? As a result of living through adversity, are you more empathetic? Creative? Motivated to help others?
  • Don’t Personalize It: It’s tough not to take mistakes, slights, and setbacks personally, but the article suggests that rarely are we 100% personally responsible. As the essay recommends, “To bolster your resilience, remind yourself that even if you made a mistake, a number of factors most likely contributed to the problem and shift your focus to the next steps you should take.”
  • Remember Your Comebacks: Focusing on people who have it “worse off” than we do rarely makes anyone feel better. Instead, the article suggests to recall the times when you came back from challenging or traumatic situations in the past. Try making a list of all the things you’ve overcome and refer to it when you’re feeling unsteady.
  • Support Others. While we all know that having a network of social support is important (?) to resilience and recovery. But the article showed that supporting or helping someone else can be even more beneficial. Consider contributing your time to help a friend or to volunteer for a humanitarian cause you believe in.
  • Go Out of Your Comfort Zone. Resilience need not come only from tough situations that happen to us in life. The essay suggests that resilience can also be built by intentionally putting ourselves in challenging situations, like or reading a poem at an open mic or learning a new skill.

Here are some additional resources:
• How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss (New York Times)

• Midlife Got You Down? Focus on Resilience (Mother Nature Network)

• Turning Negative Thinkers into Positive Ones (New York Times)

• 25 Ways to Boost Resilience (Psychology Today)

• How to Be Better at Stress (New York Times)