Resilience is variously understood to be the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, or emotional toughness. Or, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened.” The fact of the matter is this: shit happens (hello, COVID), and the adversities we face in midlife and beyond will come in lots of different forms ranging from medical diagnoses and relationship challenges and breakups to the loss of jobs, the deaths of loved ones, and parenting teenagers (if you have children). The list goes on!
Yet often, as women in (or fast heading towards) midlife, we find we have lost sight of our internal compass, or even our sense of Self, having focused our attention and energies on others for so many years. Then one day we open our eyes and – bam! How did we get here? We are suddenly middle-aged and facing a range of heartbreaks we never saw coming.
How do we get through them? How do we build the resilience in midlife that we need to be able to step up and face the challenges that come with leading a rich and complex second half of life? Why does resilience even matter?
Being resilient doesn’t mean you need to be tough as nails. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re going to avoid pain or suffering. It’s also isn’t clear cut; a traumatic event will impact two people in completely different ways based on their capacity to overcome adversity. Resilience matters, and it directly impacts our quality of life from childhood onwards.
Developing resilience is a complex and personal journey involving a combination of inner strengths and outer resources. There isn’t a universal formula for becoming more resilient, but we all have the power to change within us. It comes down to choices and knowing where to start; one step at a time.
Below are 10 simple steps you can take to build and nurture inner strength and resilience in midlife.
1. Self care, more than a cliché
It’s vital to integrate self-care into your daily life – and not feel guilty about it.
As women, we have often spent our whole lives putting other people’s needs first. But there’s a good reason why the airline emergency brief instructs you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others, including children. Apply the same principle in your own life. Take time out for yourself. Rest. See a movie. Schedule a massage. Whatever makes you happy! Be kind to yourself, and treat yourself how you expect others to treat you. Take time out of your routine just for you.
2. Stay curious, never stop learning
You’re never too old to learn something new. Curiosity keeps our minds active. When facing adversity, it’s important to have something else to focus on. Why not consider some professional retraining or a job or career change, embark on a new field of study, write a book, or learn to paint. The world is your oyster!
3. A bit of routine is your friend
It’s important to have routine in your life. Routine helps when facing adversity as it can help keep you grounded. Sleep hygiene is vital to your overall health, leading to greater productivity each day and often a clearer mindset. Routine – and your sense of self-determination – could be as simplistic as making your bed every day.
4. Nature talks
Connecting to the earth is essential to keeping a clear headspace and feeling refreshed and alive. Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature; it’s a great place to go to when you are overwhelmed or in need of grounding or recalibrating.
You don’t have to go far from home to get back to nature. Plant your own garden, whether it’s in pots or in your yard. Try planting edible plants. A lot of communities have gardens that you can volunteer with. Take a picnic rug to a local park, or the beach. Or wherever you are, just take your shoes off and allow yourself to fully connect with the earth.
5. Hobbies are fun!
What’s your favourite thing to do in your spare time? Hobbies can be an important (and welcome) distraction during difficult or emotional periods as they can help distract you in the short term. Whether it’s gardening, creating art, knitting, doing a crossword, learning to dance, or cooking, even something as simple as reading a book can help bring a sense of inner peace when you are feeling overwhelmed.
6. Be active
Movement is important in our lives. Being active help keep our bodies healthy, but also our minds. A lot of people don’t like to exercise and that’s ok. Consider just increasing the amount of movement in your daily routine with incidental movement such as opting for stairs instead of escalators, or even gardening.
More traditional forms of exercise don’t have to cost a lot to participate in. Often the hardest walk is out through the front door. So think about getting it over and done with early in the day to reduce your risk of making excuses as the day goes on.
7. Eat your greens
Do you fuel your body with healthy whole foods? Our body is our most important vehicle. If we don’t fuel it with good stuff, it won’t run at its optimal best and you will feel it both physically and mentally.
But be kind to yourself and don’t set strict limits, especially when you’re stressed or overwhelmed with other stuff. I prefer the 80:20 principle, with ’80’ being represented by fresh fruit, veggies, and meat versus the ’20’ being the odd takeaway, glass of wine, or bag of chips. It’s easier to cope with adversity when you’re eating right.
8. Healthy boundaries
Just like fuel for your body is an integral part of building resilience, so is fuelling your mind. Have boundaries in place when it comes to what you allow into your headspace. If the news upsets you, don’t watch it. If you notice a friend on Facebook is publishing content that isn’t aligned with your values, Unfollow them. It doesn’t have to mean ending the friendship, but it will stop them appearing on your feed.
Read and watch positive stories. Meditation can really help and comes in many forms such as yoga, creating, journaling, or even listening to music. Pick something that’s right for your mind and it will thank you.
9. Get organised
Do you have a cupboard that needs cleaning out, old paperwork that needs filing, or clothes that no longer fit? Having a thorough decluttering is cleansing for the mind (just ask Marie Kondo’s 4 million Instagram followers!) and has an overall calming effect on you.
Being able to find things easily reduces stress! Decluttering doesn’t have to just be materialistic items, either. Journaling your thoughts and ideas, for example, helps reduce mental clutter and can really help you gain clarity during stressful times.
10. Goal setting
Do you have goals and visions for your future? Setting yourself some short- and long-term goals will help give you direction and make it easier to get out of bed each day. Write them down and create a vision board to keep you focused and on track. We all have different wants and needs. Your goals will be individual to you, so be careful not to sell yourself short. or listen to someone else’s false beliefs around your vision. Only you know what you’re truly capable of.
Above all, being open to change, being flexible, is key to resilience. Just because you have always done things – or they’ve always been – a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Shit happens. It’s how you adapt to it that really matters.
Working to shore up a strong physical, mental, and emotional foundation as you head into midlife, by really looking after yourself and your needs, will not only help build inner strength and resilience. It will mean that when adversity comes your way (and it will!), you will be ready to tackle it head on.