Resilience and Health

Learn the four pillars to help boost resiliency

By Alison Stanton

According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.”

“That is a pretty good definition,” says Michael Cofield, Ph.D., a board-certified clinical health psychologist.

“Resilience generally means being able to bounce back, resist or recover from the circumstances that life throws at us.”

Resilience is important throughout life but Dr. Cofield says it is especially relevant as someone enters middle age and beyond.

“The over-65 age group is growing. Those 80 and older are the fastest growing age group of all, and they face some unique circumstances. Seventy to 80 percent of people age 80 and older have one or more chronic health conditions, which are some of the biggest challenges in life,” he says, adding that older adults are also more prone to experience loss of family and friends and possible loss of physical and mental abilities.

“People with higher levels of resiliency live significantly longer than those who are not as resilient,” Dr. Cofield says.

“And even if they do not live longer, those who are more resilient have a much better quality of life.”

Social connectivity is closely tied to resilience. According to Dr. Cofield, the quality and, to some extent, the quantity of one’s personal relationships impacts his or her physical, mental and emotional health.

“We have studied people with low levels of social connectivity who are socially isolated, and almost every negative health outcome you can think of goes up. You see an increase in depression, high blood pressure, alcoholism, and they are more likely to develop cancers.”

According to Dr. Cofield, resiliency also correlates with a person’s mindset.

“People with low levels of optimism, for example, have been found to live shorter lives as well.”

About 50 percent of a person’s resiliency is inherited from their parents, and around 10 percent is linked to factors like socioeconomic status and gender. Dr. Cofield says that 40 percent of one’s resilience, however, is based on choices, attitudes and behaviors, all things a person can control.

“Fortunately, research shows that as we get older, we are capable of becoming more resilient,” he says, adding that for those who want to boost their resilience, keeping four key pillars in mind is a great place to start.

According to Dr. Cofield, the first pillar involves enhancing psychological hardiness and boosting your level of realistic optimism, which can be learned and allows you to be more flexible. The second pillar is enhancing social connectivity, and beginning to do things that improve your chances of obtaining social support, often by giving it to others.

The third pillar of resilience involves developing mindfulness or other stress-reducing tools, and the fourth focuses on boosting the number of positive emotions you experience on a daily basis, such as gratitude, joy or serenity.

To learn more, please attend “Resiliency: The Art of Healthy Aging” on April 13. (See back page for details.)

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