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Resilience in Middle Life

Authors: Christodoulou V. & Iordanou, K.

Middle adulthood can be a thriving and exciting period of life, characterised by a deeper understanding of oneself, values and priorities and a greater independence and flexibility in pursuing important life dimensions (6). Nonetheless, this period of life, spanning from approximately 45-65 years of age, is also characterised by transitions since an individual will often experience changes in their professional, personal, and physical life (2)

Although, mid-life changes and transitions can increase stress and mental health strain, this perspective is only partially capturing the phenomenon since many people accumulate considerable resilience and specialised life skills up to this stage of life (1). Resilience in mid adulthood is then an ever-developing quality, one that captures abilities such as being able to recover from adversity and stressors, and having skills to manage setbacks and difficulties (4). Resiliency in midlife, therefore, is not the skill of avoiding change and challenge but the skill of effective navigation through turbulent waters. 




Challenges in middle adulthood can come in many shapes and forms. Some key examples may include managing changes in social and personal relationships and dealing with loneliness (3). Divorce, other types of losses, children growing up and changes in employment can cause reshaping of one’s familiar social structure. People may need to re-create their social network or discover ways to enjoy spending more time with themselves (7). Other challenges that often emerge in this period of life relate to the sphere of physical health such as hormonal changes, changes in physical appearance or the appearance of chronic illness (10).

Changes in one’s career may also introduce challenges. Such developments may be related to assuming more senior roles at work with additional responsibilities, having to achieve a viable work-life balance, or even deciding to make career changes and re-entering the learning process (9). In fact, middle adulthood is at its core, a period of life which may offer many experiences (both positive and difficult), several opportunities and avenues for growth. Therefore, middle adulthood cannot be easily labelled as either challenging or a smooth period of life. It is rather the way that one engages with life’s challenges that will define one’s subjective wellbeing during this life stage. 


The key question then is, how can one invest in their personal resilience in middle adulthood? What are those skills, mindsets and practices that can strengthen an individual in managing the complex tasks inherent in this life stage? Although this is a broad question and some strategies will be less or more appropriate for different people and cultures, the main idea is that resiliency is something that we can actively work towards and reinforce rather than a quality that we inherently own. Let’s consider some areas that might support the development of our personal resilience!

An area that may have central significance for many, is the cultivation of stable and strong social relationships. This is particularly important given the changes in family relationships during this life period. Experiencing parental loss or having adult children move out of the family home can change the dynamics of one’s personal relationships and bring more focus onto peer and friendly relationships. Therefore, revitalising friendly relationships and building a social life may be what individuals in middle adulthood need to do to move towards building resiliency. Finding solace and companionship in online communities and forums may be another way of connecting with others. However, it is important to remain mindful that the focus of such online communities promotes positive mindsets and does not further one’s anxiety and stress. 

The goal of enriching one’s social life is also consistent with a newfound focus and prioritisation of one’s self-care. In middle adulthood, pressures and responsibilities may increase due to various achievements at work or in their personal life. Yet, to remain mentally healthy and agile in this context, one will benefit from focusing more on personal care such as investing in activities that bring joy, as well as setting good daily habits such as exercise and healthy nutrition.  Furthermore, the introduction of targeted self-care activities such as learning relaxation skills, meditation, time management and self-compassion activities can shield an individual from stress related illness. 


Another important dimension of resiliency is the fostering of a value-based life (5). This means the ability to become clear about what is truly personally significant in life. Such clarification will allow for a careful selection of goals and an emotional and meaningful investment in actions. When we know why we are doing something, we can make space for some negative emotion in the service of what is important to us. For example, if one were to define that being physically healthy was personally important, one could make space for the physical discomfort of exercise or the impracticalities of visiting a gym. Achieving such an open and accepting stance towards difficult emotions and the troubles of daily life can only happen through true internal motivation. The positive twist is that often with more life experience, middle-aged people are also wiser as to what is truly important to them as they have had more opportunity to taste life’s offerings! 

In closing, resiliency is an ever-growing capacity and as such we need to remain positive of our ability to grow and learn. Irrespective of one’s life stage, maintaining an openness towards learning and upskilling is important to feel invigorated and psychologically healthy. 

References

  1. Chang, E. C., D’Zurilla, T. J., & Sanna, L. J. (2009). Social Problem Solving as a Mediator of the Link Between Stress and Psychological Well-being in Middle-Adulthood. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 33(1), 33–49. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-007-9155-9

  2. Etaugh, C. (2018). Midlife transitions. In C. B. Travis, J. W. White, A. Rutherford, W. S. Williams, S. L. Cook, & K. F. Wyche (Eds.), APA handbook of the psychology of women: History, theory, and battlegrounds (pp. 489–503). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000059-025

  3. Leonova, I. M., Kiz, O. B., Dobrovolska, N. A., Chyzhyk, K. O., & Hovorun, T. V. (2021). Cognitive Models of Loneliness in Women in Early and Middle Adulthood. BRAIN. Broad Research in Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience, 12(4), 107–138. https://doi.org/10.18662/brain/12.4/241

  4. Ong, A. D., Bergeman, C. S., & Boker, S. M. (2009). Resilience Comes of Age: Defining Features in Later Adulthood. Journal of Personality, 77(6), 1777–1804. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00600.x

  5. Park, C. L., & Slattery, J. M. (2014). Resilience interventions with a focus on meaning and values. In M. Kent, M. C. Davis, & J. W. Reich (Eds.), The resilience handbook: Approaches to stress and trauma (pp. 270–282). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

  6. Pulkkinen, L., & Kokko, K. (2017). Human development from middle childhood to middle adulthood: Growing up to be middle-aged. Routledge.

  7. Rouxel, P., Chandola, T., Kumari, M., Seeman, T., & Benzeval, M. (2022). Biological Costs and Benefits of Social Relationships for Men and Women in Adulthood: The Role of Partner, Family and Friends. Sociology of Health & Illness, 44(1), 5–24. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.13386

  8. Sutin, A. R., Costa, P. T., Jr., Wethington, E., & Eaton, W. (2010). Turning Points and Lessons Learned: Stressful Life Events and Personality Trait Development Across Middle Adulthood. Psychology and Aging, 25(3), 524–533. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018751

  9. Wille, B., Beyers, W., & De Fruyt, F. (2012). A Transactional Approach to Person-Environment Fit: Reciprocal Relations Between Personality Development and Career Role Growth Across Young to Middle Adulthood. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 81(3), 307–321. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2012.06.004

  10. Zheng, Y., Manson, J. E., Yuan, C., Liang, M. H., Grodstein, F., Stampfer, M. J., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2017). Associations of Weight Gain From Early to Middle Adulthood With Major Health Outcomes Later in Life. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 318



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