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Aging Takes Strength

Let’s face it, aging takes strength and courage. For some, aging is a series of losses, such as changes in physical health, loss of friends and loved ones, and sometimes your own independence. Loss is difficult.

Why are some people better able to cope with these changes, while others have more trouble?

The good news is that there are many things that contribute to resilience or one’s ability to cope successfully with life’s challenges. The even better news is that most of these factors can be fostered and developed.

We can think about resilience in three broad categories:

- Protective factors—these have the largest impact and these are the qualities you can develop. These protective factors are also helpful in modifying or coping with risk factors, mentioned below.

- Life satisfaction can help you cope with stressful events because when you are generally satisfied with life overall, you are better able to see that the obstacle is only one piece of the puzzle.

- Optimism or anticipating that things will work out can build you are resilience.

- Positive affect such as happiness and joy can have a big impact on how you approach stressors.

- Belief in your abilities, or self-efficacy, has the biggest impact—basically, confidence in your ability to handle stress or change. If you expect to be able to handle the stressors that you’re facing you are significantly more likely to be successful in coping with stress.

- Self-esteem, or confidence in yourself, is another trait that can help you cope with stress.

- Supportive relationships – the quality of your social support matters. For example, high quality and supportive relationships are going to be beneficial, while negative or conflictual relationships will ultimately have a negative impact on your ability to cope.

- Demographic factors, like age and gender, have a small impact and, really, you don’t need to worry much about them. There is some research that suggests resiliency increases as age. This makes sense – as we get older, we face more and more obstacles that we learn from, and this builds our skills for coping with life’s challenges. Gender has been found to be another small association. However, it may be more related to factors that have been, historically, tied to gender norms, such as socioeconomic status or social support networks.

- Risk factors—these have a moderate impact and may reduce your ability to cope with hardship, nevertheless their impact can be minimized.

- Anxiety and depression, which often occur together, can put you at risk to have more difficulty when faced with stressful events.

- Negative affect or the negative expression of emotions can impact your thinking, relationships, and, even, your health. For example, people with high hostility are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

- Perceived stress or, in order words, how much you believe the stressor to impact you, matters. If you believe the stress to be impossible – it probably will be. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the clinical disorder that can follow a traumatic event. Previous trauma, as well as the development of PTSD, can place one at risk for difficulty coping in the future.

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, negative emotions, or PTSD, it can be very helpful to speak with a mental health professional. Licensed mental health professionals can be found by reviewing licensed psychologists and therapists in your area at:

https://utpsych.org/directory or https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists

Here are some practical ways to build your resilience:

- Self-efficacy – build confidence in your ability to cope. Reflect on past successes, and how you coped or even just survived difficulties. Your past life experiences have contributed to your ability to cope today. Every time you survived a difficult time, you were metaphorically “putting money in the bank.” You can rely on your confidence that you have already coped and survived difficult times – AND you can cope with whatever is ahead because you’ve already “put money away for a rainy day”.

- Positive affect -- find activities, even if they are small that bring you joy each day. For example, listening to your favorite music, talking with a loved one, or enjoying the outdoors. Be sure to build in these types of activities into your daily life. Positive emotions have a big impact on you, your thoughts, your relationships, and your health.

- Self-esteem -- build confidence in yourself. Reflect on your strengths and what you like about yourself. There will always be someone who is faster, stronger, and smarter, but you are the only you. Be yourself and focus on the qualities that you like about yourself.

- High quality social relationships – building a support system that truly supports you. Relationships can be, at times filled with conflict, one-sided, or is just plain negative. It is important to cultivate relationships that are supportive, warm, and rewarding.

Aging can be difficult, and you can build personal skills to cope with the difficulties ahead. Remember the strength, courage, and perseverance you have already built. Take care of and be kind to yourself.

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Last Updated: 5/28/21