To Maintain Cognitive Health Learn to Build Resilience

How we handle stressful events determines the quality of our lives. A new study has found that our response to daily annoyances can affect our cognitive functioning as we age. But we can learn how to deal with stressors so that we build resilience - our ability to bounce back following adverse events.  

Here, "researchers followed 111 older adults, ranging in age from 65 to 95, for 2½ years. Every six months, they went through a battery of cognitive assessments where they "looked at a series of two strings of numbers and were asked whether the same numbers appeared in the two strings, regardless of order." This test is an indicator of processing efficiency and cognitive health.

The researchers found that "those who responded to stressful events with more negative emotions and reported a more dour mood in general showed greater fluctuations in their performance." Fluctuations are a measure of mental focus and cognitive health and greater fluctuations mean worse mental focus and cognitive health.

Everyday annoyances are a fact of life. It's not the stress that's destructive, it's how we respond to stressors that is harmful. We can learn to respond to daily annoyances differently. Stuck in traffic? Computer crashed? Kids are sick? We can either stress over it, or accept that stuff happens. This study has shown that when we respond negatively to stressors, it can damage cognitive functioning over time. 

Six Ways to Manage Stress that Build Resilience
  • Ask yourself: Is this really stressful? Things can be annoying, disruptive, uncomfortable or difficult without being stressful.
  • Accept that you are feeling stressed. This reduces the emotional charge and calms the amygdala.
  • Reappraise or reframe the stress you feel in the situation as helpful. Use stress as a skill to optimize performance.
  • Change your mindset about stress to stress is enhancing: Changing your mindset can save your life.
  • Slow down your breathing to deactivate the fight or flight system and activate the rest and digest system.
  • Take care of yourself: We are a mind-body system; to have a healthy mind, you need a healthy body.

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