My most recent support group topic was 'resilience'. This is the ability to cope successfully with change or adversity. Resilient people respond to life's challenges with courage, even when afraid. We have little control over many events in our life—accidents, natural disasters, crime, illness, the economy, etc.—we can control how we respond to these events. Resilience protects against (and reverses) depression, anxiety, fear, helplessness, and other negative emotions, and thus has the potential to reduce how they affect us physically. Challenges of living with chronic illness and pain can include loss of a job, functional limitations, symptom and medication management, disability, financial stress, loneliness, loss of identity and purpose, among other things. Life itself can bring other challenges, such as relationship changes, loss of loved ones, etc. All of these things are easier to cope with if one has resilience.
Ways to develop/maintain resilience
- Establish meaningful relationships- A study published in February 2011 by the International Centre of Lifecourse Studies found that resilience was not linked to socioeconomic or demographic characteristics. They found that having a good support system is the number one characteristic of a resilient person. This includes close ties to family and friends, as well as integration into the community.
- Accept adversity and move on- Focus on what you still have and what you are grateful for.
- Have a compassionate attitude towards yourself- Avoid excessive self criticism. Your illness and disability are not your fault.
- Have realistic expectations of yourself- Focus on what you can do, and explore new options.
- Help others- Volunteering and assisting others can add meaning to your life.
- (Re)discover your strengths- Remind yourself of activities you used to enjoy and take pride in, and try them again.
- Enjoy challenging mental activities- Pursue a variety of interests to keep you stimulated and engaged in your life. Take an interest in your world.
- Plan pleasurable events and establish meaningful goals- This will give you something to look forward to. Having a sense of control over your life will make you more resilient.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle- Good health is associated with both physical and mental resilience. Eat a healthy diet, be physically active, and get adequate sleep. Avoid smoking and excess alcohol.
- Exercise- Regular exercise improves health and provides a sense of mastery and well-being.
- Reduce stress- Too much stress causes physical and emotional strain and erodes your resilience. Engage in relaxing activities such as hobbies, meditation and tai chi, confide in friends or family, and take time to unwind.
- Accept help- Let friends and family assist you physically and emotionally. Seek professional help for depression or anxiety.
Resilience can be developed at any point in life. A major aspect of resilience is the ability to accept reality as it is, and to move forward from there. Taking care of yourself and being an active participant in your life are also vital. Pick one area above that you feel needs a boost, and think of some realistic steps you can take to improve that area of your life. Now, get a move on.