“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius
In a recent article, I wrote about the health benefits of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone. It may have seemed insensitive of me to espouse toughening up and taking on more difficult challenges with the uncertainty and fears we face in the world today. From the disruption and loss of lives brought on by the pandemic, to the global effects and environmental disasters related to climate change, and the more recent Russian invasion and tragic war in Ukraine, all of this has weighed on us heavily. Then there are the day-to-day struggles that we all endure, especially those grieving the death of a loved one, or those who are courageously battling a chronic disease or disability and continue to wake up each morning to take on the day. We all face adversity in our lives to some degree, but it’s how we learn to cope with trauma and stress that will help us, the people we care about, and our community to become more resilient.
Psychologists define resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors”. There are certain factors that make individuals more resilient than others, but resilience is not a characteristic that only some people have. It involves behaviors that anyone can learn and develop, but it’s how we choose to cope with our struggles that will determine how we navigate adversity and learn from it.
Throughout two years of pandemic life, living with chronic stress and loneliness has been the norm. Many Americans have resorted to unhealthy coping behaviors such as poor eating habits, smoking, binge drinking, inactivity and prolonged social media use. Alcohol consumption has gone up exponentially since the start of the pandemic. Physical activity levels are gradually increasing but have not gone back to pre-pandemic levels. This is especially evident in older Americans and retirees: a recent study found that 40% of people age 65 and older reported less movement amid the pandemic. A loss of mobility and function has also contributed to an increase in falls of older adults, often leading to disability, social isolation and a greater need for eventual long-term care. Even before the pandemic, older adults were one of the highest-risk groups to experience loneliness. It’s not a coincidence that social isolation often begins with poor mental and physical health.
It’s natural to feel lonely, anxious, grief, and uncertainty in an unsettled world; however, in order to be resilient, we need to find healthy ways to deal with stress and adversity in our lives. Possibly the most important strategy in coping with stress and improving resilience is building your social connections. Connecting face-to-face with trustworthy and compassionate individuals or joining a group can offer you support and a sense of belonging when times are tough.
In general, men are more likely to be socially isolated, but women are more likely to feel lonely. On the other hand, women tend to seek emotional support from their social network to express their feelings. As a group fitness instructor, I can attest to this healthy behavior where women often outnumber men in my classes. Women are very supportive and encouraging of one another and often socialize before and after class. Whether I’m teaching in-person or on Zoom, attendees not only get a healthy dose of physical activity, but find a supportive and inclusive experience to help relieve loneliness and the uncertainty in our world today.
In contrast, men tend to repress their feelings, often seeking an escape activity when confronted by stress. However, I believe this can be a healthy way to relieve stress if done appropriately. For example, since the start of the pandemic I’ve been getting outdoors regularly for walks and runs, as well as meeting up with a group of friends each week to play golf. I also offer a movement and mobility class programmed for men once a week (see New Class Offerings). These activities, combined with the companionship and friendly banter of other men, enables us to release stressful energy in a challenging but enjoyable way.
As I stated in a Facebook post at the beginning of the pandemic, “These are troublesome times indeed, but we humans are an adaptable, resilient bunch. As one of the longest living species on earth, we wouldn’t be here otherwise!”