Post-Traumatic Growth: How to Cultivate Resilience


Caring for an aging loved one can wear you down. Worry about pain and suffering, power struggles, physical strain, emotional stress, financial fears, anxiety over what the future holds—the list goes on. In troubled times, when you are pulled in multiple directions by all of your responsibilities, the effort to keep your head above water can seem herculean.

But traumatic times can also trigger emotional growth. The ability to cultivate resilience is an essential skill for wellbeing, especially when the future seems dark.

According to Maria Sirois, PsyD, resilience is a choice. As the keynote speaker at the Aging Life Care™ Association—New England Chapter biannual conference, Sirois emphasized that resilience involves “behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”

Recognize Common Stressors

The most common stressors that challenge our resilience are familiar to anyone involved in caregiving. Sirois identifies the following:

  • Presence of chronic suffering;
  • Lack of time;
  • Lack of power;
  • Not enough support, a sense of isolation;
  • Stressful patients; stressful family members;
  • Confusing or shifting rules, power structures and relationships.

Seek Opportunities for Growth

But stress and uncertainty also bring opportunities for creative problem solving and new approaches. Sirois describes these as the “Five Domains of Post-Traumatic Growth”:

  • The opening of new possibilities not present before;
  • A change (deepening) in relationships with others;
  • An increased sense of one’s own personal strength;
  • A greater appreciation for life in general;
  • A deepening or significant change in ones’ spirituality.

Practice Healthful Ways to Adapt to Change

People who practice resilience have learned healthful ways to adapt to change while under stress. Close, dependable relationships provide key emotional support. Knowing your limitations, when and how to ask for help—and receive it—is also essential. Savoring the moment, practicing gratitude, leading from your strengths and perseverance are all qualities to cultivate.

Easier said than done when you’re under pressure. We all stumble and get stuck. Remember that this is a mindful mindset that takes constant practice. Sirois cites Karen Reivich, author of The Resilience Factor, who offers four questions to ask yourself on the path to “grounded optimism.” Next time you find yourself sinking under stress, complete these sentences:

  1. A more accurate way of seeing this is . . .
  2. One possible other explanation is . . .
  3. My thoughts aren’t necessarily true because (list evidence) . . .
  4. A more likely outcome is . . .

Your answers may well surprise you. Opening up to new possibilities takes a willingness to question and consider alternative ways of seeing the world. Each new step you take will undoubtedly stir up fear and anxiety that accompany any change. But clarity of vision and positive action also generate new energy and strength.

Stay mindful, celebrate your successes and give yourself room to falter. Cultivating resilience, like cultivating a garden, takes time, persistence, patience, a willingness to get your hands dirty and the reward of a creating a space of beauty, peace and renewal.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care™ manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Tom Ezzatkhah

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One Response to Post-Traumatic Growth: How to Cultivate Resilience

  1. Loren M Gelberg-Goff says:

    Excellent recommendations. Great resource.

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