Stress and Longevity: Creating More Resilience
Recent longevity research suggests that adults with psychological resilience age more slowly, live longer, and enjoy better health. In this blog we’re going to take a look at stress and how it undermines our capacity for resilience, and in particular, self-induced stress that originates in the everyday relationship we have with ourselves. We’ll explore the nature of resilience, how it relates to stress and longevity, and how to begin creating more resilience today by taking the first steps towards transforming our relationship with self.
Stress is an ever-present element of our fast-paced, demanding lives and has been vilified as harmful to our health, a thief of our joy, and something to be avoided at all costs. Many health professionals and coaches place a major emphasis on managing stress, lowering it, and even removing it altogether, but it’s important to recognize stress is always part of life, and stress in itself is not inherently an entirely negative force. Stress also has its positives: it can serve as preparation for taking action or help us achieve a worthy goal and stress can also foster personal growth.
Take a moment to recall major accomplishments throughout your life. It’s likely that many of them were done in the midst of (and even in spite of) stress. Instead of solely trying to eliminate or manage stress, there’s a more efficient and realistic approach: shifting our focus towards building resilience, which teaches us to navigate the inevitable ebb and flow of life more effectively and grow through challenges.
What is Resilience?
Dr. Stephen Sideroff, an internationally recognized psychologist and expert in resilience, optimal performance, and mental health, describes resilience as ‘the optimal way to navigate the world.’ According to Dr. Sideroff, resilience involves efficiently utilizing personal energy as a key to slowing down the aging process. It entails finding harmony with our environment, engaging an appropriate amount of energy (no more, no less), and effectively mobilizing our body’s resources to accomplish tasks. Afterward, we then allow our body’s recuperative mechanisms to restore the resources expended during stressful experiences.
Resilience is defined as the skill of adapting well to difficult experiences, bouncing back from challenges, and overcoming adversity. It is influenced by both genetics and our environment, and we can build resilience over time through our perspective, choices, and actions. Individuals who are more resilient can thrive in the face of adversity, trauma, and significant stress. While we all possess some level of resilience, certain individuals cope more effectively with adversity and rebound faster than others. Unlike stress, which has both positive and negative aspects, resilience operates in a unidirectional, solely positive manner. Embracing resilience empowers us to tap into our inner strength and resourcefulness, enabling us to gracefully navigate the inevitable challenges and fluctuations of life with vitality and grace.
Dr. Sideroff’s Nine Pillars of Resilience
Dr. Sideroff presents a holistic approach to building resilience through his nine pillars, organized into three broad groups: Relationships, Organismic Balance and Mastery, and Engaging with the World. The first pillar, Relationships, emphasizes the importance of nurturing connections with oneself, with others, and with something greater. Having a kind and supportive “inner voice” is a crucial starting point for building resilience which will be explored in-depth later in this blog. Self-love, self-compassion, and self-respect influence how we care for ourselves, nourish ourselves over time, and how we show up in the world. Strong, supportive relationships provide a sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning and serve as a source of strength through challenges. Connection to ‘something greater’ can be related to religion or can also refer to spirituality, having purpose in life, or something that connects you to a larger community, even work.
The second category, Organismic Balance and Mastery, focuses on achieving equilibrium across physical, mental, and emotional domains. This includes responding to a situation appropriately from an energy standpoint, like learning to deeply relax. You can think of this as energy management. There is interconnectedness between these three domains – an event that triggers our stress response will inhibit our physical and emotional self-regulation and function. If we can stop perceiving stressful things as “dangerous” we can remain more intact and function better. This pillar highlights the significance of maintaining internal balance. When we prioritize physical well-being, support our cognitive abilities, and nurture our emotional intelligence, we enhance our resilience and increase our ability to efficiently adapt to stressors.
The third category, Engaging with the World, underscores the importance of cultivating presence, flexibility, and personal power. Being present allows individuals to engage with their surroundings, fostering a sense of mindfulness and awareness. Flexibility enables adaptability and open-mindedness amidst change. Personal power, defined as the ability to get things done, empowers individuals to take proactive steps toward goals, creating a sense of agency and resilience.
These nine pillars describe a framework for building resilience, elucidating the key elements necessary to navigate and evolve from life’s trials and tribulations. By nurturing relationships, achieving balance and mastery, and engaging with the world, individuals can cultivate the necessary tools to weather storms and bounce back from adversity. Dr. Sideroff provides a mastery class and workbook on his website to support you in the process of building resilience. Dr. Sideroff’s nine pillars are summarized here and some links to his work are referenced in the resources list below.
Dr. Sideroff’s Nine Pillars of Resilience
- Relationship with self
- Relationship with others
- Relationship with something greater
II Balance and Mastery
- Physical balance and mastery
- Cognitive balance and mastery
- Emotional balance and mastery
III How we engage in the world
- The ability to get things done
Your Longevity Journey: Building Resilience By Starting With YOU!
Building resilience is a transformative process. Rather than focusing on “stress management” which can seem insurmountable (things keep happening!), we can focus attention on the slower, more proactive work of reinforcing our strength.
A great place to start building resilience is through improving the relationship with oneself. This relationship is where the majority of us struggle most, though we may not be aware of our negative habits. There is a big opportunity in creating a healthier relationship with ourselves first, as this internal dynamic has immeasurable effects on all of our relationships, all pillars of resilience, and how we show up in the world at large.
Even if we attend therapy weekly, (a great start!) that’s just one hour of the week. Our internal voice is communicating with us all day, every day, and is shaped subconsciously from childhood. This inner voice can often be overly critical towards self, have difficulty accepting self, and lack compassion for self. In contrast, a healthy relationship comes from a place of love, compassion, acceptance, support, and care.
Throughout your day, begin to monitor your self-talk. What does your inner dialogue sound like? Is it kind or is it unkind? Supportive or discouraging? Forgiving or judgmental? Try not to judge what you notice, the first step is just becoming aware. How does your internal voice sound when you are learning something new or when you make a mistake?
When you notice an inner dialogue that is not healthy, take a step back and imagine instead that your best friend performed exactly as you had or is going through exactly what you are going through. How would you speak to them? Would you talk to them the same way you talked to yourself? Or would you be kinder, more loving, more supportive?
You can play out exactly what you would say to your friend in your head, and then repeat it to yourself to extend that same love and compassion towards yourself. It may be helpful to jot down brief details of the situation and then journal exactly how you would respond if it were your best friend reaching out to you for support while going through this same situation. You can then re-read your words to extend the same support toward yourself.
In Peter Attia’s book ‘Outlive,’ he shares another version of this exercise. When Peter noticed self-judgment or self-contempt come up in his daily life, he would take a moment and record a voice memo on his phone of exactly what his inner voice was saying in those challenging moments. He would then send these voice memos to his therapist and workshop a kinder way to speak to himself by referencing how he would speak to a friend in the same situation. This exercise helped Peter reframe and see the disconnect between his mistakes (minor) and the way he talked to himself about his mistakes (brutal). He recorded these voice notes multiple times a day over a span of four months, and through this process, his harsh inner critic became fainter and fainter until it was hard to remember. Just imagine the difference in our lives if we have a kind, loving, supportive inner voice talking to us constantly as compared to the alternative!
The pillar of self-love is a good starting place for many. Dr. Sideroff’s methods embrace the journey of building resilience rather than seeking to eliminate stress. Remember that building resilience is a lifelong process and each step we take is a valuable investment in our health. By focusing on his nine pillars of resilience and success, we can cultivate stronger relationships, achieve balance and mastery, and engage with the world in a more empowered way. Through practices like meditation and biofeedback, we can recalibrate our stress response and enhance our capacity to adapt and thrive. Embracing resilience rather than trying to banish stress not only supports our immediate well-being but also sets the stage for a vibrant and fulfilling life journey. Remember, stress is not the enemy—it is our ally on the path to optimal health and personal growth. Dr. Sideroff’s methods are explored more deeply in his books, mastery class, and writings.
Dr. Kara Fitzgerald’s Podcast: New Frontiers in Functional Medicine, Longevity, Epigenetics. Episode: Building Resilience for Optimal Functioning with Dr. Stephen Sideroff. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify
THE PATH: Mastering the Nine Pillars of Resilience and Success by Stephen Sideroff Ph.D. Available on Amazon
Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity by Peter Attia
Resiliency and Longevity by Al Siebert, PhD
The Secrets of Resilient Aging by Dr. Stephen Sideroff
Photo by Nesrin Öztürk