Social adversity: What you can do
Again, many of these factors may be outside of your control. However, certain ‘resilience factors’ can help shield children from adversity. “When we look at children who seem to be dealing with toxic stress better than predicted, we almost always find a positive, supportive relationship with a safe, secure and loving adult,” says Dr Hill.
Childhood trauma can affect the way people view relationships and how they connect to others into adulthood, according to Caroline Maguire, a personal coach who works with kids. “When children have positive relationships with their family and important figures in their lives, it allows them to have trust and intimacy in their adult relationships,” says Maguire. “Our ability to connect with others begins in early childhood. Schools, clubs, churches, youth and community organisations, neighbourhood and family connections [help children] to connect as adults.”
She recommends therapy with a professional to work through trauma, volunteering, and bonding with a pet, among other suggestions, for dealing with adversity. According to Dr Hill, equitable school programmes, supplementary nutrition assistance, visiting nurse partnerships for pregnant and new mothers can help families. He also says the positive parenting movement is helpful, as it replaces punishment with rewards, structure, and a system for helping children regulate their own emotions and behaviour.
If you are thinking of getting a dog to bond with, here are 11 of the most affectionate dog breeds that love to cuddle.
A negative outlook
Although health behaviours have received the majority of attention in scientific literature, some studies have found that your mental outlook on the world can impact your lifespan. Emotions such as anger, contempt, disgust, guilt and fear – collectively referred to as negative affect – can rob years; so can a poor self-image, and dissatisfaction with life. Persistent feelings of anxiousness, tension and moodiness can also, as well as lower conscientiousness.
One study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Epidemiology found low conscientiousness (a catch-all term that included a tendency to give up easily, a lack of self-control, and poor long-term planning) was associated with elevated mortality. Other studies suggest that neuroticism might protect against earlier mortality; people who rank higher in that trait may be more vigilant about their health and seek medical advice more readily than others, which could result in a greater likelihood of survival from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease.
A negative outlook: What you can do
Angele Close, a clinical psychologist and emotion-focused therapist, says that social support and the ability to reach out to others often comes up as a key variable in longevity and satisfaction in life. “Willingness to open up to others and share about one’s struggles, which feels vulnerable for many people, is an important determinant in one’s mental health throughout the life span, particularly in later years,” says Close.
“Flexibility and emotional resilience are also important. Rigidity in one’s views and needing things to be a certain way can create suffering and stress; most things in life are temporary and impermanent.”
She suggests kindness, caring and being of service, including volunteering, as important for one’s psychological state and mood. However, self-sacrifice can also lead to negative affect, resentment or feeling burdened over time.
“Caring for others, including people, animals and causes, must also be balanced with setting healthy boundaries,” she says. Even children with more anxious temperaments and those who’ve been exposed to trauma can learn strategies to help override default negative views of the world. Close says getting adequate sleep, eating nutrient-rich foods, limiting or omitting alcohol, drugs and other substances, regular exercise, mindfulness meditation, prayer, self-compassion exercises, social support, and working with a therapist have all been shown to help build emotional resilience, cope better with daily stress, and experience greater satisfaction in life.
Sign up here to get Reader’s Digest’s favourite stories straight to your inbox!