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Excerpt from "Live Young, Think Young, Be Young…At Any Age"

Armor Against Adversity

by Donald M. Vickery, M.D., Larry Matson, Ed.D., Carol Vickery, R.N., M.S.N.


Resilience is the quality of character that allows us to bounce back from adversity, to use the experience to get stronger. It can ease suffering and enable us to face challenging times with courage and patience. Hope arises in resilient people when bad things happen. The more resilient, the more hope. The more hope, the more likely we are to come out of adversity stronger than ever. Like courage, hope is not something we either have or don’t have: We can become more resilient by the way we think and the way we live.

Research by Barbara Fredrickson, one of leaders in the study of resilience, has found that the key to resiliency is the balance of positive and negative emotions. More positive and fewer negative emotions means greater resilience. Her research has found a tipping point for resiliency at a ratio of three positive emotions to one negative emotion. Those who have at least three times as many positive as negative emotions tend to be resilient. Below that level, people are more apt to languish and fall into a downward spiral.

KEY INSIGHT

We become more resilient by starving negative emotions and feeding positive emotions.

The Balance of Positive and Negative Emotions

More of these

Fewer of these

Love

Hate

Gratitude

Anger

Hope

Hostility

Forgiveness

Sadness

Optimism

Anxiety

Pride

Blame

Caring

Envy

Inspiration

Pessimism

Serenity

Hopelessness

Awe

Fear

Joy

Despair

Amusement

Frustration

Interest

Impatience

Patience

Worry

Satisfaction

Humiliation

Grace

Selfishness

Calmness

Impatience

Resilient folks are steadfast in the face of adversity. They grow even more positive and determined. Negative emotions cannot survive in the presence of a positive mindset, just as negative self-talk cannot persist in the presence of positive self-talk. People who are more resilient refuse to let adversity keep them down. Resilience is like the fitness of the spirit. It’s the will to continue to embrace the good in life even in tough times. The challenge we all face in staying as young as possible is to be as resilient as possible.

Characteristics of Resilient People

§ Believe that things will get better

§ Always find a silver lining, some positive lesson

§ Have a tenacity of spirit, a determination to overcome challenges

§ Find things to smile or laugh about even in tough times

§ Have a sense of inner peace and serenity

§ Have gratitude for life

§ Have a sense of purpose

§ Are confident that they can make a difference

§ Take pride in helping others

§ Appreciate the beauty and power of nature

§ Value their relationships with others

Becoming Resilient

There are several ways to become more resilient. An important one is what we’ve been learning and doing up to this point¾self-managing our root cause behaviors and exposures to stay strong and keep disease processes in check. If we don’t control the things we can change to stay young in body and mind, then it’s tougher to be resilient in the face of adversity. So, managing the Aging Syndrome is one way, but there are three other important strategies for becoming more resilient:

  1. Learn and practice coping skills for the tough times.
  2. Build and maintain close personal relationships.
  3. Develop spiritual strength and inner calmness.

The combination of these four factors¾managing our behaviors and exposures, learning coping skills, having supportive relationships, and being spiritually strong¾determines how resilient we are. If any one of them is weak, then we will not be as resilient as we can be. We need to work on our weak link to become more resilient.

KEY INSIGHT

Resilience is the intersection of mind (coping), body (health and fitness), spirit (serenity), and connectedness (relationships).

Ultimately, resilience is a mindset of seeing oneself as a survivor rather than a victim. It’s a dynamic process of thinking, responding, and acting when unchangeable events occur. The natural inclination is to withdraw, but the best strategy is just the opposite¾to use the event to make positive changes, to get more involved, and to find new meaning and purpose for life. That’s what our final set of rules is designed for.

Rules to Live By: Becoming More Resilient

Accepting What We Have No Control Over

1. Recognize that everyone experiences loss or tragedy.¾Life is not fair; it does not go according to plan, whatever our plans. Everyone faces adversity. Everyone experiences loss. Everyone will suffer pain. It’s just a matter of time. When it happens to you, take comfort in knowing that it’s part of life.

2. Accept that we cannot change what has already occurred.¾We get stuck regretting what happened in the past. Let go of what you cannot control, like the past. Focus on what you can control, like the present. Accept that the event happened and we can’t change it. The only thing the past can do for us is teach us lessons for the future.

3. Accept that things happen for no reason.¾There may be no rhyme or reason for what happened. Everything changes and ends, and it is often unexpected and unavoidable. When we accept our vulnerability, we are less overwhelmed when bad things do happen.

4. Find your own path to acceptance.¾We’re all different. There is no single best way to feel or deal with grief. Process it in a way that is natural for you.

5. Allow yourself to feel and experience your emotions.¾Burying our feelings can be detrimental to our health and well-being. If we don’t deal with our feelings now, they will persist and they will harm our body, mind, and spirit. We can’t fully accept the situation until we release most of our negative emotions. Read about grief to better understand the process. Keep a grief journal to become more aware of how you are dealing with it.

6. Consider the consequences of not accepting.¾There are serious consequences of not being able to accept the bad things that happen to us. We just mentioned that it allows negative emotions to thrive and grow, leading to a downward spiral of declining mental and physical health and stagnation in life. Negative emotions accelerate disease processes, as we saw in Chapter 23 on attitude.

Coping with Unchangeable Adversity

1. Focus on what you can control: your response and your thoughts.¾This begins with how you think about what happened. Start a journal of your thoughts. It can help you become aware of any negativity that is persisting. Write about the things you’re struggling with most. If you have lost a loved one, write about the person.

2. Focus on living "in the present moment."¾This takes your mind off the past. When coping with adversity, focus on one day at a time. Win each day. Celebrate the strides you took today, and use them to do better tomorrow. When setbacks occur, bring the focus back to the present moment. Win that moment and use it to build positive momentum.

3. Look for a silver lining, something positive to come out of the adversity.¾When you lose, don't lose the lesson. There is always something to learn from adversity. The silver lining seldom makes up for the loss you experienced, but that’s not the purpose. The purpose is to focus your mind on something positive. It may be just the opportunity to learn how to help others experiencing the same tragedy. If you’re struggling to find anything positive, turn to gratitude. Find something to be thankful for.

4. View unchangeable adversity as a challenge rather than an unbearable problem.¾Adversity is an opportunity to get stronger. Use it as a catalyst to initiate positive change.

5. Focus on positive thoughts, and let go of negative ones.¾Become conscious of your thoughts and emotions, especially the negative. Think about why you are feeling this way. Switch negative emotions to positive by changing how you are thinking about the situation. Observe yourself. Are you acting like the person you want to be? It may help to write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Writing thoughts down makes us more conscious of them.

6. Stay engaged in life and work so you don’t get swallowed up by sorrow and negativity.¾

Staying busy is essential for many people. It forces them to get up, go out, and interact with others.

7. Don’t let yourself withdraw and become isolated.¾A common response to adversity is to shut down, to keep feelings bottled up. This only prolongs the grief process and the negative emotions. One of the best ways to prevent this isolation is to talk to someone you are close to about the situation. Reach out to friends and family to keep from getting isolated.

8. Find some purpose for your life that has meaning for you.¾Having purpose feeds our soul and helps us rebound from loss. It strengthens our vision for our future and makes us more resilient today. Ask yourself, "How can I make a difference? How can I use this experience with loss to help others and to make myself stronger?” Find something that you are passionate about and pour yourself into it.

9. Take care of yourself; eat well and get plenty of exercise.¾People who are going through difficult times often neglect their own health needs. This contributes to weakness and vulnerability and to disease processes. Focus on eating healthy, and resist the temptation to indulge in “happy” foods or alcohol as an escape. Get some exercise every day to feel better naturally.

10. Take time for activities you enjoy.¾The activity may be exercise, recreation, a hobby, reading, listening to music, meditation, going to lunch with a friend, or a movie¾whatever brings you pleasure. If you engage in an activity you enjoy, it will free your mind from negativity and enhance positive emotions. Turn to this activity when you are feeling stressed, negative, or just down.

11. Spend some time in nature every day.¾The beauty and serenity of nature are calming, and being in nature connects us to God and the universe. Sometimes just going for a walk outside, breathing fresh air, or sitting quietly in nature helps us release negative emotions.

12. Find a role model, someone who has been through a similar experience and came through it well.¾There are undoubtedly many others who have had similar experiences. Find others whom you admire for the way they have handled a tragedy. Use them as an example to emulate.

13. Keep focused on the future, all the reasons you have to move on.¾Keep the long-term perspective in mind; see the event in a broader context. Let go of what is not serving you well, and embrace what is serving you well.

Strengthening Relationships

1. Reach out to friends and family to strengthen relationships.¾We need people we know we can count on for support when we need it. Work on making these relationships stronger. Treat others like they’re your best friend.

2. Don’t take relationships for granted.¾Pay attention to your relationships right now, especially those that are most important.

3. Help others; be as good a friend as you can be.¾Reach out to help others; do some volunteer work. When you help out, it helps you.

4. Don’t turn down opportunities to do things with others.¾People will reach out to you when you are experiencing adversity. They will ask you to do things. Accept these invitations even if you really don’t feel like it. You might feel better afterward.

5. Get involved in things you believe in.¾Getting involved is a good way to meet people with similar interests and thus expand your social network.

6. Consider joining a support group if one is available.¾There are support groups for almost any issue you may be dealing with. Talking to others who have had similar experiences, and hearing their stories, will help you feel less isolated. And, it will help you develop your coping skills.

Building Spiritual Strength

1. Think about your spiritual beliefs now.¾Don’t put off exploring your spiritual beliefs. You never know when you’ll need this strength to fall back on. Think about what you feel about the meaning of life, our purpose in this life, what happens after we die. This is the foundation of our spiritual beliefs. It strengthens our spirit and increases our resilience. Thinking about our spiritual beliefs is particularly important when we lose a loved one. When we have a belief about what comes next, it may be comforting. For example, if you believe that this life is just one brief part of an infinite journey of our soul, and that souls are attracted to one another, then you’ll be comforted by the belief that you and a lost loved one will be together again.

2. Open yourself up to learning and growing.¾Being open is especially important when you’re not sure what you believe. Talk to trusted friends about their beliefs, or read one or more of the many great books on these topics. Acceptance is easier when we open ourselves up to new ways of looking at things. When we close down, we become stuck in our current thoughts and emotions.

3. Be honest with everyone.¾Living with integrity and honesty and always treating others with respect strengthen our spirit.

4. Choose hope over hopelessness.¾Maintain hope, expect good things, and visualize them happening. Use positive affirmations to support positive expectations.

5. Visualize the person you want to be as you go through adversity.¾If you want to be gentle, loving, resilient, and strong, then see yourself with those traits. Use affirmations to support this picture (“I am strong and resilient in the face of loss”).

6. Calm yourself so you can get more in touch with your thoughts and feelings.¾Practice stillness (i.e., meditation, focused relaxation, deep breathing) to calm and clear your mind. Serenity is not possible until the mental clutter is cleared. Be patient; it takes time to learn to still your mind in this way. It’s the same technique we discussed to control the stress reaction.

7. Bless others rather than judge them.¾Get in the habit of blessing others no matter what the circumstances. If people say something unkind, bless them. It fosters peace, serenity, and spiritual strength in you.

8. Be grateful for what you had and still have.¾Gratitude is a powerful healer. Ask yourself, “What am I thankful for on this day?” Also, think about how this experience can help you grow spiritually and how you can use it to help others. Start a gratitude journal to become aware of all you have to be grateful for. The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have.

9. End each day in peace.¾Pray, meditate, listen to music, and read uplifting books. Write down what you are thankful for in your gratitude journal at the end of the day.

10. Prepare for the inevitable losses that come with older age.¾Growing older involves multiple losses¾loved ones, friends, career, physical abilities, income possibilities, ultimately our own death. These things happen to everyone; it’s just a matter of time and degree. Resist the cultural and media interpretations of the “losses of aging,” and create your own vision of older age that focuses on being grateful and fostering positive emotions.

11. Let go of envy for the young.¾We all will grow old and die. We will all lose the abilities and independence that we cherish today. It is natural to envy the young and all they can do, all they have in front of them, as we see our possibilities slipping away. Envying the young is another form of living in the past. Let go of the past, accept who you are right now, and celebrate that. Look for what is good and beautiful in your life right now. Looking back only fosters negative emotions; it focuses on loss and makes us competitive and regretful.

Our new mindset

“Old” is weak, stiff, inflexible, and stagnant in body and mind; it’s also stagnant in spirit. This means less resilient, more dominated by negativity, and vulnerable to the consequences of not being able to accept loss and adversity. We experience more losses as we get older, and negative stereotypes of aging make it more challenging for us to remain resilient, so the losses can take a greater toll. What can we do? Think differently. Accept the unchangeable with grace and serenity, and change what we can change with courage, confidence, and determination. This means staying involved, staying positive, having a purpose, not taking things for granted, building spiritual strength, having close friends and family, and self-managing behaviors and exposures. This kind of behavior will make us stronger and more flexible in body and mind, and more resilient in spirit. It will shatter the stereotypes, raise expectations, and change how we grow older. We all can “Live young, think young, be young . . . at any age.”

Permissions: Excerpted from Live Young, Think Young, Be Young…At Any Age by Donald M. Vickery, M.D., Larry Matson, Ed.D., and Carol Vickery, R.N., M.S.N. Available in stores and online October 1, 2012. Copyright Bull Publishing.

Donald Vickery, M.D., was a pioneer in the self-care and wellness movement. A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard School of Medicine, he was the author of many books, including Take Care of Yourself and Life Plan. In 2003 he was awarded the American College of Preventative Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award. He passed away in 2008.

Larry Matson, Ed.D., is an expert in the role of physical activity in the management of chronic disease. As a health and medical writer and fitness coach certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, he specializes in evaluating evidence and making complex information useful and easy to understand.

Carol Vickery, R.N., M.S.N., is a Public Health Nurse with the Nurse Family Partnership Program in Colorado and has nearly 40 years of experience in nursing, including Critical Care, Community Health, Wellness, telephone counseling and Maternal Child Health.

Purchase info:

Available in bookstores and online, or directly from the distributor: http://www.ipgbook.com/live-young--think-young--be-young-products-9781933503974.php?page_id=21


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