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How to Build Resilience in Midlife

Sallie Krawcheck, a former Wall Street executive, said that after a very public firing, she reminded herself how fortunate she still was to have a healthy family and a financial cushion. While she has never studied resilience, she believes early challenges — like being bullied in middle school (“It was brutal,” she said) and going through a painful divorce — helped her bounce back in her career as well. “I just believe in comebacks,” said Ms. Krawcheck, who recently founded Ellevest, an online investment platform for women. “I see these setbacks as part of a journey and not a career-ending failure. There was nothing they could do to me on Wall Street that was as bad as seventh grade.”

■ Support Others. Resilience studies show that people are more resilient when they have strong support networks of friends and family to help them cope with a crisis. But you can get an even bigger resilience boost by giving support.

In a 2017 study of psychological resilience among American military veterans, higher levels of gratitude, altruism and a sense of purpose predicted resiliency.

“Any way you can reach out and help other people is a way of moving outside of yourself, and this is an important way to enhance your own strength,” said Dr. Southwick. “Part of resilience is taking responsibility for your life, and for creating a life that you consider meaningful and purposeful. It doesn’t have to be a big mission — it could be your family. As long as what you’re involved in has meaning to you, that can push you through all sorts of adversity.”

■ Take Stress Breaks. Times of manageable stress present an opportunity to build your resilience. “You have to change the way you look at stress,” said Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, which recently began offering a course on resilience. “You have to invite stress into your life. A human being needs stress; the body and the mind want stress.”

The key, Dr. Groppel said, is to recognize that you will never eliminate stress from your life. Instead create regular opportunities for the body to recover from stress — just as you would rest your muscles between weight lifting repetitions. Taking a walk break, spending five minutes to meditate or having lunch with a good friend are ways to give your mind and body a break from stress.

“Stress is the stimulus for growth, and recovery is when the growth occurs,” said Dr. Groppel. “That’s how we build the resilience muscle.”

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