While our senior years can bring vulnerabilities (as we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic), the good news is that these years also bring with them opportunities for resilience. Lived experience and the emotional maturity to age well makes seniors more likely to take challenges in stride. In fact, we’ve known for some time that a healthy attitude towards aging can extend life expectancy by as much as seven years, the equivalent of having never smoked. The trick, though, is to create a world around us that gives us the resources we need to keep being our best and boldest selves.
There are plenty of things seniors can do to decrease stress, maintain mental and physical health, and make the most of this remarkably important phase of life. The real threat when we age is that retirement or our children moving away will decrease the sources of support we’ve nurtured over a lifetime that can make our lives fulfilling. Here are five things we can do as we age to nurture and maintain resilience.
Five ways to age with resilience
The best defense against depression is finding meaning: While we know that having a sense of life purpose is good for our mental health as we age, finding life purpose requires spaces and places where we can contribute. Reading to children, sharing our skills, or simply being there to hold another’s hand, isn’t just good for others, but also pays a dividend back to us. The more opportunities we have to feel needed, and the more places we make a contribution, the more likely we are to feel our lives have meaning.
Rethink family priorities and create time for connections: While aging sometimes distances us from our family as children move away or we change where we reside, anything we can do to keep connected to those who mean the most to us will buffer us against mental and physical health worries. Even if that connection is through the internet, we are stronger and more resilient to life’s stressors when we stay connected.
Keep structure in our lives and have responsibilities: Getting up each morning at a regular time and keeping as many routines as possible is a great strategy to prevent physical and psychological decline. Resilience thrives on routine and responsibilities, making us feel like our lives are predictable and that tomorrow is as important as today. Whether we are fulfilling our role as a grandparent or helping to look after someone else’s pet when they can’t leave their home, our wellbeing is intricately tied to our being needed by others.
Keep building a strong identity: During our senior years we need to be seen for the talents we have. Take this opportunity to strengthen different parts of your identity, whether that is taking up a new hobby or simply showing others a different side of yourself that was less obvious when you were younger and preoccupied with life’s daily hassles. By broadening who we are, we draw attention to what we have to offer.
Nurture a sense of belonging and maintain a spiritual path: Look for opportunities to express your life purpose. Do whatever you can to maintain a sense of community, even if that community is only online. Far better to settle where you are already have a community than to try and start new friendships later in life. If you are spiritual, use the connections you find through a faith community to give you a feeling of sustained connections with others.
Our resilience isn’t just something inside of us. It is just as much the result of how capable we are at finding places in our life where there are plenty of supports to keep us feeling mental and physically healthy.
More Insights: You might also enjoy this article on caring for your skin as you age.
Author: Michael Ungar, Ph.D., Director, Resilience Research Centre, Dalhousie University. Author of: Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success