Building Brain Resilience

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Resilience is being happy despite hardships. We all have struggles, but some people roll with the punches better than others. “I’ve seen misery in mansions and smiles in slums,” says Amit Sood, creator of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Resilient Mind program. In his research on happiness and resilience, he has found that joy is often not defined by your circumstances but by how you deal with problems and challenges.

People usually develop resilience at a young age. But as we get older, we hit bumpy roads — grief, divorce, illness, financial stressors, moves. Sometimes finding the strength to push forward can be tough, but it’s imperative, since resilience is “correlated with improved health outcomes, better aging, quicker recovery from illness, less need for pain medications, and stronger relationships,” Sood says.

When working to improve our resilience, we are pushing against some hefty neural predispositions, the first of which Sood calls mind wandering. When your brain isn’t focused on a specific, meaningful task, your thoughts stray to all your unfinished jobs. That may increase your risk of anxiety, depression, attention deficit and even dementia.

Sood’s research also shows that the brain quickly adapts to the pleasant parts of life. As we begin to expect most aspects of our day to be good, we stop noticing all the pleasurable parts and instead focus only on the bad things that happen.

So how do we rein in these automatic negative thoughts and create a life driven by joy, not fear? Research has shown that pathways in the brain get reinforced by repeated use. If your default mode is to see the negative, try instead to concentrate on the positive to strengthen those connections.

Take a brain health assessment, play games, discover new recipes and more with AARP’s Staying Sharp.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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