It’s been a tough few months for everyone. But through the hardship, older adults may have discovered their superpower: resilience.
Here’s something we don’t bring up enough when we talk about older adults and the COVID-19 pandemic: You’re incredibly resilient. More so than young people and even adults in their 50s, research has shown.
Resilience is defined as “adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress,” according to the American Psychological Association. And older adults appear to be particularly adept at bouncing back.
One explanation: “We build and develop different resources over the course of our lives,” says Brenda Whitehead, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. For example, resilient adults tend to put in the effort to have healthy relationships, good mobility, and a strong sense of community and purpose.
Whitehead surveyed a group of adults age 60 and older to learn what about the pandemic stressed them out—and what brought them comfort and joy. Some of the answers were expected. People reported that family, friends, and pets kept them buoyed, as did faith for those who are religious.
But some of the responses about comfort and joy surprised her. “Humor came up, and several people mentioned memes, funny parody songs, and YouTube videos,” Whitehead says.
“Many people also brought up food and drink, which I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. They talked about really savoring a meal, or making something special for dinner,” she says. That’s certainly one way to explain the pandemic baking trend. Whitehead says with a laugh, “That’s why there was no flour on the shelves, right?”
That resilience was apparent when we asked the SilverSneakers Facebook community to share what’s helped them cope with the pandemic—and whether they have found any silver linings along the way. Here’s what they said.
Resilience Tip #1: Try New Things
“Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” says Joyce Cox. “Since March, I have learned to use Zoom, order groceries online, and conserve toilet paper! I can’t go to the gym, so I started watching SilverSneakers on Facebook Live. I love this addition to my routine! My husband and I also started walking 30 minutes every day in our neighborhood and got to know some new neighbors!”
“I try each day to do something healthy (less salt, for example), do something helpful or nice (even to the cat), and learn something new (like a lecture or an article),” says Sharon English.
Resilience Tip #2: Find Creative Solutions
“Since not going to my gym in the past eight months, I’ve made up a good regimen at home. I made our long driveway into a ‘track’ for fast-paced walking. And I use the two bottom steps of our stairway for doing a step class,” says 77-year-old Nadia Kirgan, who’s logged nearly 400 miles so far.
Resilience Tip #3: Embrace New Ways to Connect
“My silver lining is that my oldest brother has organized Zoom meetings for us eight siblings scattered coast to coast and in between on every holiday since Easter. This has been an unexpected blessing for sure,” says Maureen Meehan.
Resilience Tip #4: Explore New Hobbies
“I started taking calligraphy and watercolor classes online, and started reading for fun more,” says Betty Jean Hatcher Wade.
“I am a (reluctant) northern transplant to Florida. A lot has changed in my life,” says Maria Tela. “There is a silver lining. My husband and I have taken up a new hobby: watching the rocket launches from NASA. We have an amazing viewing spot right outside our door, and it has been fun to coordinate the times and logistics of seeing the launches. We have learned a lot about space as well.”
“I took up painting by number,” says Pat Wilbur. “Very relaxing and nothing like the old kits. I’ve done some very beautiful pictures.”
Resilience Tip #5: Make Your New Hobbies Social
“I started a sew- and craft-along with my Facebook family and friends. Everyone posts pictures of something they’ve made, which has been fun to see,” says Deborah Branscum.
Resilience Tip #6: Learn New Skills
“I’ve been working on numerous knitting projects that had accumulated,” says Carol Beecher. “I learned how to make a cardigan with pockets and buttonholes. I’ve practiced knitting with two strands of yarn. I try to learn something new with each new project.”
“Because I was never in the grocery store (thank you, grocery delivery and pickup), I was able to adopt a new way of eating without temptations pulling me off course, and I lost 17 pounds,” says Therese McMahan.
As the pandemic stretches into its second calendar year, Whitehead cautions that seniors will continue to struggle with feelings of isolation. She recommends that you get creative and find ways to keep moving, even if they’re not your preferred kinds of exercise. “Exercise is so important for stress, and for keeping us physically and mentally healthy,” she says.
Bonus points if it involves some kind of social interaction. “If you have grandkids to FaceTime with, play Follow the Leader or Simon Says,” she suggests. Or just put on some music and have a little dance party in the living room.
And if you’re having a hard time bouncing back, remember that you’re not alone and there is help. Check out these tips to care for your mental health during COVID-19.
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