Healthy Aging Part 12:  Resilience: Rising Beyond Challenge

By Robin Bush – ISR Communications

Ask yourself, “How resilient am I?” 

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Resilience is knowing you can rebound from a setback or challenge and believing that you are a survivor despite what happens to you. You can adapt and overcome. No excuses. No matter the truth behind the terrible things that occurred in your past or are happening today, you have the indomitable will never to give up. The American Psychological Association defines it as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, threats, or significant sources of stress…it can also involve profound personal growth.”

You are not born with resilience. It’s a skill you learn and build over time. Resilience in older adults includes the “ability to adapt and cope with circumstances in a way that enables one to emerge stronger, to thrive in the aftermath, and to integrate the lessons learned. These are traits that can be learned and can have an effect on positive aging.” (

We can build resilience in four aspects of our lives:  mental, physical, social, and environmental.

Mental Resilience

Mental resilience starts with asking, “What is the outcome I desire?” It takes digging deeper to answer that question than just answering, “I want to be happy, peaceful, and enjoy life.” You can use the clarity that comes from living a long life of resilience in the face of challenges to discover that all those experiences have made you who you are today. Mental resilience means being able to prepare yourself, face adversity, recover, and rise above it to grow, thrive, and invent your future self.

If that sounds overwhelming, take small steps until you prove to yourself you can succeed. Remind yourself how many times you have fallen and picked yourself up. The more successes you experience, the stronger and more resilient you will be in the face of the next challenge. 

People who show greater mental resilience have higher levels of gratitude, happiness, and optimism in how they adapt and cope. With each new challenge you face, ask yourself, “Can I see this difficulty in a positive way?” and then ask, “What can I learn from this situation?”

Physical Resilience

Centenarians today have lived through 22 recessions, the Great Depression, 25 presidential elections, multiple world wars, epidemics, and personal challenges (financial, medical, and social). Universally, they speak of the importance of the power to adapt. They agree that to develop physical resilience, you must care for your body’s ability to operate optimally in the face of challenges by eating healthful foods, lowering stress levels, keeping moving (mentally, spiritually, and physically), and spending time in nature. It’s your resilience equation. What can you change today to build your physical resilience?

Social Resilience

Not everyone you once considered a friend remains one all your life. You may grow apart through different world views, live at long distances making seeing each other less frequent, or shared interests may fade as you pursue separate paths. When one friendship fades, however, something important happens. It makes room for someone new who listens, helps you build your confidence, someone with whom you can safely express different points of view, or is willing to invest in seeking truth. When you build that depth of relationship, you become socially resilient, avoiding the physical and mental effects of loneliness. Who can you talk to today that will grow your social connection?

Environmental Resilience

The more contact you have with nature, the greater your resilience. Walking in nature makes us healthier; it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, and helps us sleep. The belief is when in contact with nature, our bodies echo the resilient natural rhythms around us. We see resilience in new saplings growing from a nurse log that fell and became fertile ground for new growth. We hear resilience when a songbird sings to the rising sun after a night of darkness. We taste resilience when we eat fresh fruit each summer. The endless cycle of growth, aging, fading, and the sprouting of new growth returning is our mentor. Nature doesn’t give in to challenges. Can you take a walk today or look out the window? What do you see? Let nature be your inspiration. It will nourish your resilience.