By Annaben Kazemi
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to remain calm in the face of disaster, while others seem to fall apart? People who are able to keep their cool have what psychologists call resilience, or an ability to cope with problems and setbacks.
At some point, everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks. Some of life’s challenges might be relatively minor, while others are on a much larger scale. Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life's trials. However, resilient people are able to utilize their skills and strengths to cope with difficulties and face the challenges that life brings. This quality of resilience is especially vital in patients who are coping with chronic illness.
When resiliency is missing, patients may instead become overwhelmed by their diagnosis. They may dwell on the negative and use unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges of having a complex chronic illness. Dealing with change (going from an active lifestyle to one that has more limitations) or loss (grieving the existence one used to have before being diagnosed) is an inevitable part of having a chronic illness. But resiliency gives patients the strength to tackle problems associated with their illness, overcome setbacks and move on with their lives.
I am constantly amazed and awed by the stories patients share about thriving in spite of their illness. Their inspirational stories have caused me to notice some common characteristics. These particular patients tend to:
- Have a "where there's a will, there's a way" attitude
- See problems as opportunities
- "Hang tough" when things are difficult
- See small windows of opportunity and making the most of them
- Have deep-rooted faith in a system of meaning
- Have a healthy social support network
- Have a wide comfort zone and are open to trying new approaches
Patients who are resilient draw on strengths in themselves, their relationships and their communities to overcome difficulties brought on by their diagnosis. Resilient patients often find meaning even in times of trouble and gain confidence from overcoming adversity. In this way, resilience can contribute to a deeply satisfying life despite all the changes a chronic illness can bring.
So how can chronically ill patients become more resilient? Surprisingly, resilient behavior is not simply an inborn trait found in a few individuals. As a matter of fact, many experts believe resilience is actually quite common, and people are very capable of learning resilience skills. Resilience may take time to build, so patients should not become discouraged if they still struggle to cope with their disease. Instead, they can start with the five suggestions below.
- Find a sense of purpose in life: After Vicky Modell’s son, Jeffrey, died at the age of 15 from complications of primary immunodeficiency, she founded the Jeffrey Modell Foundation, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to early diagnosis, research and ultimately finding a cure.
- Develop a strong social network: Having caring, supportive people around acts as a protective factor. Connect online through IG Living’s Facebook page, teen group or join a blog dialog.
- Embrace change: Flexibility is an essential part of resilience. By learning what alternatives are available, patients will be better equipped to adapt and respond to the challenges of illness.
- Be optimistic: Staying optimistic during dark periods can be difficult, but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resiliency. What patients are dealing with may be difficult, but it is important to remain hopeful and positive about the future.
- Nurture Oneself: Patients need to be good to themselves. Losing appetite, ignoring exercise and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to a crisis situation. It’s important to make time for activities that are enjoyed. By taking care of their own needs, patients can boost their overall health and resilience.
Resilience doesn’t develop overnight, but life’s difficulties can be faced with courage and patience. Refuse to give up! At IG Living, we believe in you.