THE BLOG
12/10/2013 04:05 pm ET | Updated Feb 08, 2014

Build Your 'R Factor' and Boost Your Longevity

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The new wellness paradigm contains a palette of life changing and life extending ideas and perspectives. Some scientists and holistic seers know that longevity is not merely a factor of your genes, diet and exercise... but the paradigm for creating great health and longevity is much bigger! Out of the many pillars of health, the "R factor" is probably the single most important new wellness attribute to recognize and include in your wellness initiative.

No, I am not talking R as in restricted. I am talking R as in resilience!

Resilience is one's ability to cope, to bounce back after suffering a traumatic incidence or to recover from or adjust to misfortune or to change. The American Psychological Association offers ideas on resilience factors as well as strategies for building resilience.

You've heard it before. "Go with the flow." "Bounce back," to life's challenging circumstances (such as loss of a loved one, injury, family problems, divorce, illness, etc.). Well, your ability to do just that, bounce back, to a point of inner balance, has a tremendous impact on your overall wellness and longevity.

Your body works hard to create homeostasis (wholeness). When the "lemons of life" hit you, being able to make lemonade is truly beneficial to your health. Why? Because when you can't adapt to life changes (small or large), your body produces biochemical stress signals. Stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine rise to signal your body to be on alert. While these hormones served a very biological (survival) purpose at one time in your very ancient history (prehistoric man history), these hormones can do harm if they are continuously being activated by your body.

So the way to adapt is to teach your body to be accepting of change and to think more logically (vs emotionally) when challenges come your way. This does not mean to be insensitive, it simply means to be calm and think clearly before you immediately RE-act!
It means to know and understand that not everything that will/can happen to you in life is under your control. It simply isn't. What you can't control, don't stress out over. Period.

Most recently, I was in the scurry of the devastating weather and tornados which hit Washington, Illinois a few weeks ago. Driving home from Peoria on Sunday, November 17, 2014, I witnessed the entire sky going black! Not just an average rain cloud, no, this was something much greater and more powerful. Flight-or-fight mode kicked in.

I quickly pulled my car of the road and searched for the nearest shelter. I landed at the Holiday Inn Express in Morton, Illinois. With 50-plus mph winds swaying my car, I ran inside my new found shelter and prepared for the unexpected. Within minutes, a tornado touched down just minutes from me and leveled the community of Washington, Illinois. My thoughts were no longer "Can I stay safe?" but rather, "Oh my gosh, how are the people of Washington doing?"

Clearly I was frightened. However, I really didn't experience the devastation of fear and loss like the people of Washington did. They are the ones who have to survive deaths, injuries and the loss of their homes and belongings. While these material things are replaceable (to which you may attest), the terror of the event and realization that a part of their life (home -- which may hold many memories) no longer exists.

As you might imagine, their emotions ranged from fear to anger to sadness and (for some) despair. They will need to start from scratch and rebuilt their homes, community and lives. This is the point at which the R factor can alter the future years of each and every person in the town of Washington, solely by how each person can adapt to this crisis at hand. For those who can emotionally move forward and begin to rebuild their home with a positive outlook and hope, their R factor will help keep their body in a balanced state, handling each challenging day with greater ease, working toward a new goal and letting go of what they can't control.

Are you born with a certain R-factor level? Can you change your R factor? I believe we are each uniquely born with an inherent ability to handle life stressors. Certainly, your childhood conditioning can add to or subtract from which situations you view as stressful and which coping mechanisms you can employ to deal with that stress. The wonderful news is that you can change your R factor to increase your resiliency to some of life's less pleasant (and downright painful) events. You can do that through training your own body about how it reacts, a powerful mind-over-matter reconditioning and rerouting of brain circuitry.

Here are a few helpful tips to ramp up your R factor to build inner resilience in preparation for life's uncertainty:

1. Understand what you can't control, you won't control. Circumstances out of your control will happen again and again in your lifetime. Take time to process the negative emotions and then let them go. You can't effectively move forward when you hold onto the past.

2. Seek support of family, friends and others (religious advisers, counselors, professionals) who can provide solace for you during challenging times. It's okay to lean on them. That's what friends and family are for. Allow yourself to be guided.

3. Begin to retrain your brain. This is key. Much of your prior conditioning and stress response patterns are already developed within you but may not serve your best (health) interests. Start by changing your thoughts. Begin by extracting anything you deem as positive or good from your challenging situation and focus on those aspects. Shift your perspective from being a victim to being a victor!

4. Know you are not alone. There are thousands of stories about people overcoming some of life's most challenging obstacles. Be another one of them. Dig deep for that inner strength within you. Its there. Perhaps you never have had to really call upon it before. Know that God (the universe) is on your side.

5. Nourish your body. Do what you need to do to take care of your own health during a trying time. Get proper nutrition. Get plenty of rest. Find moments to laugh and appreciate the little things. When you are under stress from major crises, even small annoyances can become irritating and exacerbate the stress you are already under. Minimize drama, negative influences and unnecessary distractions.

6. Believe in yourself. We are uniquely born with many inherent survival skills. Even the tiniest premature babies work very hard at trying to survive against all odds. It's almost as if they have a relentless willpower or determination preprogrammed within them. As an adult, know that you have the ultimate power to determine how you survive the outcome of the challenge you face. Believe you can. Believe you will.

When you ultimately survive your challenge, you will recognize and appreciate a whole new strength you have created within you. Your R factor can be strengthened with each and every future challenge you face. And believe me, there will be more. Life is like that. It's filled with constant change and uncertainty. But now that you are beginning to learn how to ride its wave, you can surf with the best, while being assured you are doing the best for your personal health and longevity.