Feature StoriesHealth & Wellness

Your Personal Resilience Plan 1

We kick off the New Year with a bold initiative and encourage every one of our readers to participate in the process. Throughout 2024, we will focus our attention on building a Personal Resilience Plan for readers of Vermont Maturity. With each issue, we will explore a different dimension of resilience and invite you to build a personal plan to promote resilient beliefs and behaviors.

As readers of my articles know, we are big fans of resilience. Behavioral Science research has shown that resilient seniors enjoy the following benefits. They experience …

  • fewer chronic health conditions, 
  • more independence in daily living skills,
  • lower incidence of depression,
  • lower frequency of hopelessness,
  • stronger adaptive coping ability,
  • more physically active daily habits, and,
  • increased lifespan longevity.

If those options were listed on a ‘life menu,’ we might imagine a diner saying
“I’ll have one of everything.”

Let’s begin with a dimension that most of us think of when we hear the word ‘resilience.’ The late decades of lifeoffer up a guaranteed number of disappointments and setbacks. For those of us lucky enough to advance in years, we are sure to lose beloved friends and family members. There is no remedy for the loss of an intimate friend or family member who has been an integral part of our life for decades. Most of us return home from a visit to the physician with news of a chronic disease that will haunt us for the duration. We lose physical agility and endurance. The list rings familiar to every reader.

By now, we know the feeling of getting knocked on our ‘derriere’ as we lie staring up at the sky catching our breath. We have had the experience many times before and confront the distressing question: “what now?” Those of us fortunate enough to have genuine friends might share details of our dilemma and receive words of encouragement and support. Inevitably, however, this is a personal choice. What do we do when we’re ‘down and out?’

Virtually every one of us experiences disappointment, and in the case of major events, even despair and grief. We do not underestimate the power of these emotional injuries. At some point, each of us confronts the question “now what?”          

We ask each reader to review setback events and make a note, mental or preferably written, describing your reactions and the duration of your emotional setback experience. Obviously, in the case of losing loved ones, that reaction may endure for years and even decades. We’ll save a side bar discussion on ghosts for a future article.

For readers who want to build a systematic resilience plan, we suggest you mark a page Unit 1. Describe your personal reactions to significant setback events and note also how you deal with the attendant emotions and if you make a conscious effort to work on a recovery plan.

Those who have read our previous articles may also recall our discussion of Becca Levy’s work out of Yale. Her research on how seniors view their life amazes her readers. She has demonstrated that positive beliefs about aging result in a 50% lower incidence of dementia. Further, negative beliefs about aging are associated with greater rates of hospitalization. Clearly there is something real and tangible about holding optimistic beliefs about life in later decades.         

If there were a clear recipe for making the transition from the painful emotional experiences related to setbacks to a positive, optimistic outlook on life, we would be glad to share it. It is a genuine labor of love – for oneself. Start with getting and staying active. Reach out to friends, especially those who have shared similar experiences. The practice of gratitude is consistently associated with positive mindsets. Attempt to stay in the present. Capture the beauty and wonder of simple things – trees, flowers, kindness, and loving relationships. There’s no easy path forward but the strategy makes sense. Make notes on your experience. We’ll go to unit 2 in our next article.

Richard Houston, Ed.D., is an aging baby boomer who is ramping up his productivity rate in his mid-70’s. He swears that his brain has never been more productive. Check out his web sites at Senior-psych.com and Resilience-Advocate.

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