How to Build Resilience in Midlife

7 minute read

Resilience is our ability to bounce back from adverse situations. Most of the research done on resilience and how to build it has focused traditionally on children.

So, does this mean that adults are not able to build resilience? While resilience is a necessary skill for healthy childhood development, science has shown lately that adults can also boost resilience during midlife. We are all aware of the ever-looming midlife crisis, so there seems no better time than now to develop a little resilience.

Midlife can come with an assortment of stressors such as divorce, the death of a parent, career setbacks or changes, financial struggles, retirement worries, and all the woes of raising children. What is shocking is that despite the number of potential stressors during this time of life, few of us have developed the coping skills we need to meet these challenges.  

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The good news is that middle age prepares us to best handle these situations; we just don’t realize it. Some of the qualities of middle age, like a stronger ability to regulate emotions, concern for future generations, and the perspective gained from experiences are all tools to help face midlife struggles.

Studies of stress and resilience have found that it is best to think of resilience as an emotional muscle that can be strengthened at any time. It is important to be able to build resilience before a big crisis occurs and it is equally important to develop steps to take during and after the crisis to help emotional recovery.

It is always best to be prepared, but even if you are not prepared for a specific event, there are things you can do to move forward from the adversity in a resilient way.

A man watching the sunset over the city

Building Resilience in Middle Age

Regardless of the resilience you developed as a child, there are a few things you can do in middle age to build resilience to cope with any stressors headed your way.

1. Practice Optimism: Optimism partially stems from genetics and partially on learning. This means that even if your entire family is full of gloom and misery, you can still find an inner ray of positivity.

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Optimism must not be mistaken for ignorance because it does not involve ignoring the reality of a negative situation. For example, following job loss, many would feel defeated and like they cannot possibly recover.

An optimist on the other hand, would acknowledge the challenge and see the potential to rethink goals and to find a new path to being happy. Thinking positively and surrounding yourself with positive people does work because optimism, just like pessimism, is infectious.

2. Don’t Make It Personal: When life hands us a setback or bad situation, we naturally tend to blame ourselves, and overthink what we should have done differently. At that time, it always feels like the situation will never end or get better.

In these situations, instead remind yourself that even if you did make a mistake, there were several factors that likely contributed to the problem. Then, shift your focus towards the steps you need to take moving forward. It is important to remember that there is no failure that is entirely personal.

3. Don’t Forget Your Comebacks: When times are tough, we like to remind ourselves that others have it worse; soldiers at war, a friend with cancer or those parents of that kidnapped child.  While this is all true, it is more effective and beneficial to instead think of the challenges you have personally overcome.

This is a better resilience boosting tool because it is easier to relate to yourself than to another person. When you can tell yourself that you have been through worse and made it, the current situation seems easier to overcome. You need to remember that life is full of challenges and you have already overcome quite a few, so these can be used to boost you past the current ones.

A woman consoling her friend

4. Support Others: Studies have shown that people are more resilient when they have strong support networks to help them cope with a crisis. You can get even more resilience by being a person who offers support. When you extend support to another person, you essentially step away from yourself, which has been shown to impact and enhance your own inner strength.  

5. Take Responsibility for Your Life: By creating a life that is meaningful and that you can be involved in, you will develop the means to push past any adversity.

6. Get Breaks from Stress: Changing your perspective about stress can help to reduce its impact. The healthier approach is to create regular opportunities to recover from stress, just like you give your muscles a break between heavy sets at the gym. Taking a walk during the day, meditating or having lunch with a friend are all great ways to give your mind and body a rest.  

7. Don't Try to Eliminate Stress: Your approach to stress recovery is what makes you resilient. Fighting stress is futile because it won’t go away, so accept it into your life and learn how to cope and recover in a healthy way.

8. Rewrite Your Story: The way you look at a tragedy or bad situation can help build resilience. You can reframe the narrative which will then shape your view of the world and yourself.

Instead of seeing it as a tragedy, think of how it may be able to help others or how you can be a role model from the situation. Stress can be used to fuel better performance and create a different outlook.

A middle aged woman on a kayak

9. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: Resilience does not just come from negative situations, you can also build it from challenging yourself.  Your stress hormones become less responsive when you are better able to handle stress and live a life that gives you the skills to better do this.  

10. Challenge yourself: Take an adventure vacation, share your poetry with strangers at a local coffee house reading, and sign up and complete that marathon you had been dreaming about.

The Bottom Line

Stress is a normal part of life, providing us with the adrenaline and push to accomplish goals or deal with threats. However, chronic stress can lead to health problems. Building resilience throughout life can be an effective tool to cope with stress. Eliminating stress is fruitless so learning to cope with stress is a better goal.

Middle age may bring many challenges and changes. Developing resilience during this time is possible and important to dealing with stress. Changing perspective, trying new experiences that are out of your comfort zone, helping others, and taking breaks are all useful tools to develop resilience.

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