Resilience is important, whatever stage we’re at in our life. But sometimes we just don’t feel very tough. So what if I told you there were ways to cope better with some of the stresses that midlife can throw at us: divorce, the death of a parent or spouse, a career setback, worries about money or kids? Seriously. We could all improve our ability to bounce back from adversity.
I discovered my own resilience a few years ago when I was floored by a boardroom coup. It left me feeling not just battered and bruised, but pretty much annihilated emotionally. So how did I pick myself up and start again?
I’m not gonna lie, as my kids would say. It was hard. Some days I was anxious. I certainly didn’t always feel positive or confident. I cried. But I maintained my self-belief. And I learnt how to replace the negative chatter in my head with positive affirmations. As a result of all the bad stuff, Studio10 was born. And it’s become my goal in life not just to redefine beauty for women as we age, but to redefine ageing itself.
The good news is that as women in midlife, we already possess some of the qualities we need to help us boost our resilience. We’re better able than younger people to regulate our emotions, and have more perspective, gained from life experience. Scientists who study resilience say it’s important to think of it as an emotional muscle that can be strengthened at any time. And while it’s useful to build it up in case of trouble, there are steps you can take when crisis hits that will speed up your recovery.
So here are the ways to increase your resilience in midlife.
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. So you can change it up. It doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. If we lost our job, for instance, some of us might think we’d never recover. But an optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way: “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my goals and find work that makes me happy.” That’s just what I had to do. Thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Optimism is infectious.
Rewrite your story
Reframe your situation, focusing not on the downsides, but on the opportunity a setback might present. Research shows that we can benefit from challenging the personal narrative that shapes our view of the world. A Harvard study found that people who viewed stress as a way to fuel better performance scored higher on tests and managed their stress better than those who were taught to ignore it. Observe your inner chatter and question it. It takes practice.
Don’t make it personal
We often blame ourselves for setbacks and obsess about what we could have done differently. In the moment, a difficult situation can feel as if it will never end. But remind yourself that even if you made a mistake, other factors probably contributed to the problem. Instead, shift your focus onto what to do next.
Remember your successes
When times are tough, we often remind ourselves that other people have it worse. And while that might be true, you’ll boost your resilience more by reminding yourself of the challenges you have overcome. It’s easier to relate to your former self than to other people. You know how much you’ve dealt with in the past.
Support other people
Studies show that we are more resilient when we have a strong support network to help us cope in times of crisis. But you can get an even bigger boost by giving support. Helping others is a way of moving outside of yourself, and it’s important for enhancing your own strength. Take responsibility for your life and create something purposeful.
Take stress breaks
Times of manageable stress are a great opportunity to build your resilience. You just have to change your way of thinking. It might sound crazy, but human beings actually need stress: our mind and body are set up to react to it. So rather than trying to eliminate it, create opportunities to recover from it instead. Give your mind and body a break: go for a walk, spend five minutes meditating, or meet up with a friend.
Get out of your comfort zone
Resilience doesn’t just come from negative experience. You can build it by putting yourself in challenging situations. Set yourself a goal: it might be running 10k or making a speech to a room full of strangers. Either way, your stress receptors will become less responsive and enable you to handle things better in the long term.
All these strategies take work. But we’re already off to a head start: as women in midlife, resilience is our secret superpower. What seems devastating today might prove a golden opportunity tomorrow. We just have to change the way we think about it.