Adversity Makes Us Stronger

A couple of years ago I made a strenuous hike in southern Colorado that I wrote about on my “Fitness and Photography for Fun” blog. While that hike didn’t kill me, it came too close for comfort.

I reflected at that time on the aphorism by the German philosoper Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1888 he wrote what we usually translate as, “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.”

My own anecdotal evidence has led me to accept this as wisdom. I know that I need to challenge myself, both physically and mentally. I have to push my limits. I have to keep pushing the envelope.

When I don’t keep trying harder, my mental and physical muscles atrophy. And my life gets boring.

Now, we have gone beyond the age of aphorisms and anectodal evidence. Now, a psychology professor at the University of Bullafo and three colleagues have studied
people who reported their lifetime history of adverse experiences and several measures of current mental health and well being. Their analysis of this study of a national survey panel of 2,398 subjects assessed repeatedly from 2001 to 2004 found those exposed to some adverse events reported better mental health and well-being outcomes than people with a high history of adversity or those with no history of adversity.

“Our findings revealed,” says lead author Mark Seery, PhD, “that a history of some lifetime adversity — relative to both no adversity or high adversity — predicted lower global distress, lower functional impairment, lower PTS symptoms, and higher life satisfaction.” They also found that people with a history of some lifetime adversity appeared less negatively affected by recent adverse events than other individuals. Although these data cannot establish causation, Dr. Seery says the evidence is consistent with the proposition that in moderation, experiencing lifetime adversity can contribute to the development of resilience. You can find the abstract of their study online.

What does this have to do with diabetes? A lot. No question that have diabetes is more than a bit of adversity. But anyone to is controlling his or her diabetes will tell you that having it will make us healthier and happier. And stronger too.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Steve Parker, M.D. at

    Very interesting, and fits with my experience also. Enjoyed that Wild Cherry Creek post, too.