None of us hold the same physical capabilities forever. Particularly, those of us who are lucky enough to age will inevitably experience health changes. Uncomfortable thoughts or feelings may arise from these changes, but a proactive approach can bolster optimism.

So, how can you come up with solutions and maintain emotional strength in the face of health changes? Below, we brainstorm actionable tips and talk about where to turn if you need support.

How maintain a positive outlook despite health changes

It’s tough when you can’t do what you used to accomplish with ease. Here are seven ways to persevere and maintain emotional strength.

1. Give yourself what you love in new ways. 

Losing physical ability doesn’t have to mean that you lose out on the fun.

Analyze the root need that you met through the activities you can no longer engage in. Let’s take your favorite sport as an example – what did you like about it? The adrenaline? Being part of a team?

How can you deliver that to yourself in another way? If you liked the adrenaline, you may be able to play a sit-down game that gives you a rush. If you liked being part of a team, you might start attending a meetup or class with other people you can grow close to and socialize with. 

Overall, there’s a ton of value in adjustment. Think about a child who has different abilities and is unable to learn how to, say, play a sport or tie their shoes the same as the other kids. They may be able to adjust the activity so that it’s possible for them to engage with ease.

Apply this idea to yourself. Whether that means trying an activity that gives you a similar feeling or participating with extra support or adaptations in place, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

2. List your abilities.

If you think about what you are unable to do frequently, you may find that you feel down. As a combined pick-me-up and avenue for palpable resolutions, write an inventory of what you are able to do. What are your abilities? Although you may not share all of the abilities to follow, you can include things like:

  • I have a voice to speak with
  • I have my eyesight
  • I can use my hands moderately 
  • I can use my mind 
  • I can walk moderately 
  • I can stand moderately 
  • I have good critical thinking skills

Next to those things, write activities you can engage in based on your abilities. This might look like:

  • I have a voice to speak with: I can call my family, I can sing or learn to sing, I can read out loud to children or other people in my life, I can join a support group or activity and talk to people in that group. 
  • I have my eyesight: I can watch new movies, I can see art when I make it, I can get ready for the day and wear something that makes me feel good about myself. 
  • I can use my hands moderately: I can write stories from my past down on a notepad or keep a journal, I can learn to write poems, I can do crafts, I can get things done on the computer or phone. 
  • I can use my mind: I can play phone games, I can complete crossword puzzles, I am able to have quality conversations with friends and family, I can use my imagination.
  • I can walk moderately: I can take a walk down the hallway or take a stroll outside and enjoy the scenery, I can get the grocery shopping done, I can go to a museum or another location that requires moderate walking and feels enjoyable or stimulating to me. 
  • I can stand moderately: I can do simple stretching exercises, I can cook an enjoyable meal for myself.
  • I have strong critical thinking skills: I can form opinions on world events, I can offer to give the people in my life advice when they ask, I can provide words of comfort to loved ones, I am aware enough to do something kind for others, like pay it forward, tip a barista at a cafe, or give a compliment. 

You may not have noticed some of these things as abilities in the past. Many of our capabilities, like our ability to talk, are things that most abled people take for granted. But, some people do not have these abilities.

Many people cannot engage in some of the tasks in the list above, so if there’s something you know you can do, even if it seems infinitesimal, know that it’s not small at all.

3. Approach life with gratitude.

Thought reframe is a powerful instrument, hence its frequent use by mental health professionals. Among other things, reframing your thoughts can aid gratitude. 

When you feel down about reduced health or advanced support needs, shift the thought into one of appreciation. For example, if you think, “I feel bad that my child/caregiver/etc. has to assist me with this,” you might reframe it with, “I can help them in other ways and make it fair; let me say ‘thank you’ to them today.” You can also think about what you’re grateful for or write a list. 

Extensive analysis of the brain shows that gratitude stimulates happiness, decreases symptoms of depression, and supports physical health indicators, like sleep quality and blood pressure. As small a shift as it may seem, appreciation really does make a difference.

4. Try new things. 

We talked about how to adjust old activities to fit your current range of capability, but one more thing you can do is try something entirely new. Think about if there’s anything you want to see, do, or accomplish in the time ahead.

Do not write yourself off. If it’s in your capacity to try something (or adjust an activity so that you can try it), go for it. For example, take steps to learn a new language, light yoga, tai chi, go to a theme park, or try a unique form of art.

Do write off shame or anything else that holds you back, though. Our time is finite, and you deserve joyful experiences. 

5. Make sure to socialize. 

Social activity is vital for emotional strength and overall health. How so? Statistics and research prove that healthy social ties link to better cognitive function, physical health markers, and lower scores of anxiety, stress, and depression, to name a few advantages. Isolation, on the other hand, comes with abundant health threats. 

This is correct for research specific to older individuals as well as people in various other age groups who have health issues. We all need social connection, so seek it out where you can. Bond with old friends, meet new ones, or get peer support online and through in-person support groups. 

Put yourself out there in a way that suits you best, but make sure to keep people around who uplift you, stimulate your mind, and give you something to look forward to via their contact or engagement. 

6. Allow other people to help you. 

You can allow others to help you and simultaneously retain dignity and independence. People of all ages need help and have varying abilities, and it is nothing to feel bad for in any case. If you feel stuck or experience emotional challenges that relate to accepting service from other people, the aforementioned practice of thought reframe could benefit you. You may also talk with someone who is in a similar position so that you can sound off and console one another.

7. Protect what you have. 

If you’re someone who prefers to take charge, as many of us do, you may find it both comforting and tangibly fruitful to protect the skills or abilities you do have to the extent that is possible. 

Though we don’t have full control over our health or ability, we can take precautions and take steps to be the most well-off we can be. Sometimes, it’s as quick as turning on your smartphone; there are apps out there meant to stimulate and protect the mind, some of which are specific to populations concerned with aging. If possible, you can also stretch or engage in physical exercise, even that of low intensity, to protect your body. 

When you do this, you’ll feel confident in your proactive nature. Some people find that this helps the way they feel on an emotional level as well. 

What does it mean to maintain emotional strength?

To maintain emotional strength doesn’t mean you can’t feel down. It doesn’t mean you remain stoic at all times.

Not only are you entitled to feel your feelings, but it is, in fact, something to cheer yourself on for. Acknowledgment is not a synonym for wallowing. When you identify how you feel, it can be used as a stepping stone to find answers which allow you to greater fulfill your life – like modifying a former hobby, showing gratitude for what you’ve got, or trying something brand new.

If you need an ear, talk to someone in your support system or reach out to a hotline or peer support network that can connect you with a fresh voice. Either way, know that you are in good company, that your resilience is invaluable, and that you are the same skilled and capable individual you’ve always been.