Larry Dawes is an Eskaton guest blogger and the gerontological social services specialist at Eskaton Support Center. As part of the community outreach team, he provides education and training for staff and residents across the region.
Change is an inevitable part of life, so why do transitions continue to test our resilience? Navigating life’s transitions can cause even the sturdiest among us to doubt and fear. These emotions are realities of any disruptive event, including experiencing a fall or a near fall. In either case, both can diminish your confidence, optimism, and feelings of security. Moving past these traumatic experiences requires you to summon your inner resilience.
So what is resilience? Is it more than the definition offered by the American Psychological Association. Real resilience is not just about bouncing back; it is about learning to accept the loss and moving forward. To do this, we must cultivate self-awareness alongside a willingness to grow and change.
How to Build Resiliency
Resilience is not just a trait that some are born with, but a personality characteristic that can be built. Resilience is comprised of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. After a disruptive event like a fall, there are some steps you can take to help build your physical and mental resiliency to reduce your risk of future falls.
Resilience is pursuing a meaningful goal - Having hope is possessing the ability to create meaningful goals for the future. Studies have found that sustaining hope and the ability to develop tangible goals can offset adverse life events even more than grit, gratitude, and positive thinking. When building hope, it is useful to define your goal, determine the steps needed to achieve that goal, identify any potential obstacles, and plan the strategies you will take to overcome these obstacles.
For example, after a fall, your goal may be to become more active in order to rebuild your strength, flexibility, and balance. The steps you take to achieve this goal may include enrolling in an exercise class or walking 30 minutes every day. The obstacle you may need to overcome is conquering your fear of falling while walking. A strategy that may help you overcome this obstacle is walking with an assistive device, like a walker or walking stick, to increase your confidence, stability and balance. Remember - any movement towards your goal is positive and an excellent way to tackle fear, too.
Resilience is challenging your assumptions - The way people emotionally perceive their world influences their capacity to deal with difficult situations. You may need to challenge your assumptions and beliefs in order to avoid seeing problems as insurmountable. If you believe you are more likely to fall because you have already fallen, that belief can actually increase your risk of falling again. Therefore, you must continue to challenge your beliefs in order to see these trials as growth opportunities. For example, there is a societal assumption that falls are a normal part of aging. When you challenge the accuracy of this assumption, you are more likely to take the necessary steps to reduce your risk of falling.
Resilience is having an open mind - Resilient people tend to be mentally flexible—flexible in the way they think about challenges, and flexible in the way they react emotionally to stress. Having an open mind means that you can shift from one coping strategy to another, depending on the circumstance. Being open-minded can also help you accept those things you cannot change, learn from the experience, and use your emotions to fuel your motivation for positive change.
When you are navigating life after a fall, do everything you can to learn from it. Ask yourself what caused the fall. Did the fall occur because you lost your balance or because of an environmental hazard? Understanding the circumstance can help you determine the best coping strategy for moving forward. If you determine environmental factors played a role in the fall, remove the hazards and conduct a thorough environmental review of your home to reduce your risk of future falls.
Resiliency is growing through adversity - Adversity is a natural part of life. However, some people are better at coping when things get difficult, while others struggle. Resilient people can navigate adversity and overcome the roadblocks that get in their way. The good news is that adversity offers us valuable insight and an opportunity to grow. When you are willing to learn from your challenging experiences, you can face any obstacle that comes your way. For example, if you recently fell, do you know what caused that fall? Were you feeling dizzy or lightheaded, and it caused you to lose your balance? Perhaps you were dehydrated or experienced a side effect of one of your medications. Whatever the reason, when you are open to self-reflecting, you can use that information to help reduce your risk of falling in the future.
Resilience is owning your fear - Fear is a normal, healthy human emotion, but choosing how to navigate fear can be challenging. Aim to develop a productive relationship with fear. Building self-awareness is critical to understanding what is causing your fear. Be open with yourself about your fears and their causes. If you are living with a fear of falling, ask yourself if certain activities or environments make you more fearful. Understanding the cause of your fear will help you choose the appropriate coping strategy to help you reduce your fear of falling.
Resilience is regulating your emotions - Emotional resilience is being able to calm your frantic mind after a negative experience. It is also how you can empower yourself to view adversities as “temporary” and to keep moving forward. Your emotional resilience, belief system, and your feelings of trust all define your ability to persevere despite adversity. If you have fallen, it is crucial to continue to trust yourself and your abilities to reduce the risk of future falls. Reducing fall risk means taking practical steps like staying active, eating well, and maintaining your overall health.
Resilience is relying on one another - Resilience has much to do with relying on the people around you and developing strong, supportive connections. Staying connected to others also allows you to draw upon the strength, support, and wisdom of the people around you. When you have a strong support network, you are more likely to stay engaged in your community, which is especially important if you are trying to keep physically active. Encourage a friend to attend an exercise class with you or go on a daily walk. Healthy habits are easier to maintain with a good friend by your side.
Resilience can be built over time, and anyone can do it. Remember, the power of resilience show its real strength in the face of adversity. Facing uncertain times may feel challenging in the moment, but if you follow these simple steps, the long-term benefits can help you grow, become more resilient and ultimately, will help you face future adversity with a newly-refreshed outlook on life.