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The Life-Giving Power of Resilience

It’s fun to read stories from around the world about people that have lived to be more than 100 years old. It’s certainly interesting to learn about their advice for aging gracefully. The recommendations are sometimes insightful, sometimes helpful, and many times downright funny. In those stories are also tidbits that we can all use to lead healthier and longer lives.

For example, Gertrude Weaver was 116 years old in 2014 when she told Time magazine that healthy living was the secret. Gertrude never smoked or drank alcohol, and she said she always got plenty of sleep. Meanwhile, Agnes Fenton told ABC News in 2015 that she got to the age of 110 because she drank three beers and a shot of scotch each day for 70 years. Her caretakers made her stop drinking when she began eating less and risked falling. She died several months after the alcohol stopped flowing. Despite their very different lifestyles, Gertrude and Agnes had a great deal in common—they both led relatively carefree lifestyles. They both lived as they felt they should. They both listened to their own needs.

“That’s an absolutely critical survival skill,” explains Master Hypnotist Beverly Craddock, of Hawaii Hypnosis Center, in Honolulu. “Scientific study after study have found that having a healthy stress response improves health and prolongs life.”

Prevention magazine reviewed hundreds of studies on aging and determined that outgoing, social people are 50 percent less likely to develop dementia. A similar review of aging studies by Newsmax Health found that reducing stress responses within the body is the best way to lower risks of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, and the other items follow closely in the list of things that are killing people.

A study of hundreds of people over the age of 78 by the Karolinska Institutet, in Sweden, found that most participants described themselves as “not easily stressed” and many credited the lack of stress to things like meditation, napping, red wine or drinking afternoon tea.

“This research hasn’t found that a stress-free life is required,” Beverly says. “Many of the individuals studied around the world lived through wars, famines and difficult circumstances. Rather, it is an ability to move through stressful events with resilience.”

In humans, resilience is defined as “the ability to recover from illness, depression or adversity.” The word itself comes from the Latin resili, meaning “to spring back or rebound.”

“The human brain is fascinatingly resilient yet can also be strongly resistant to change,” Beverly says. “When working with people, we’ve watched how some people can simply move past a difficult situation, while others will get stuck for decades due to past traumas. It appears that surviving to an old age is an attribute of people who rebound from the tough times.”

Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl—who himself lived to be 92 years old—said people find meaning in difficult times in three ways: by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or someone, or by having a strong attitude toward unavoidable suffering. His book Man’s Search for Meaning provided a real-world example of resilience. Despite losing his wife, mother and brother in Nazi concentration camps, Viktor survived to continue his work in the study of psychiatry and neuroscience. He was highly decorated for his work in the fields of philosophy, religion and psychology. He died in 1992 in Vienna, Austria, but his study of resilience lives on.

“I believe that resilience plays the key role in stress reduction,” Beverly says. “If you can quickly return your mind to a restful state—even in a stressful place—you have achieved resilience.”

She says that it isn’t too late for people to learn resilience. “The brain is constantly learning and developing new pathways, so it is possible for people to learn techniques to become more resilient. We recommend a daily mindfulness practice, such as self-hypnosis, yoga or meditation, for all of our clients once they have used hypnosis to resolve past traumas.”

Whether a person intends to live a long life or not, continued studies and wisdom from people that have lived long lives, points to a healthier and more vibrant outcome for those that deal with stress in positive ways—whether that means abstaining from fatty foods or living it up and having bacon every breakfast.

“Everybody does it differently,” Beverly concludes. “Some people have just learned how to do it better for themselves. And that seems to be the difference.”

Randy Hampton is a writer, social scientist, hypnotist and blogger living in Honolulu.

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