Resilience Can Help Manage Your Chronic Illness – And Science Proves It!

Resilience and Chronic Illness

One of the most common buzzwords that people will say to someone with a chronic illness or disability is “resilience.” You might be told that it’s important to be resilient when symptoms flare up, you’re not feeling at your best or can’t participate in activities you enjoy. In the more difficult moments of a chronic illness, it’s probably the last thing you want to hear.

But resilience isn’t just important for your mental health. It could actually help you manage your chronic illness or disability and even reduce symptoms.

A July 2014 study, published in The Gerontologist, also seems to suggest this. Study author Lydia Manning, a gerontologist at Concordia University Chicago, had her colleagues collect data from 10,753 people who had participated in three waves of the National Health and Retirement Study. The researchers developed a “resilience scale” to help determine how strongly participants agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “When I really want to do something, I usually find a way to succeed at it,” or “If something can go wrong for me, it will.”

Over the two years that participants were followed, 11% developed a new chronic condition including heart or lung disease, cancer or psychiatric problems. However, those who had higher scores on the resilience scale were less disabled by their illness. They reported rates of being able to perform daily living activities, such as dressing themselves, bathing and cooking meals, that were three times higher than their less-resilient peers.

However, Manning believed that all of the participants had the ability to become more resilient because this is a learned trait and not something you’re born with.

“Resilience is usually acquired during moments of adversity,” she noted. “[But] I believe that unlike some concepts — where you either have it or you don’t, you’re resilient or you’re vulnerable — everybody has the capacity for resilience.”

How Can You Build Resilience?

It’s not always easy, but you can learn to be more resilient. Follow some of the tips below to help you more easily bounce back from challenging moments.

Focus on what you can control: A chronic illness often results in symptoms that flare up without warning. Instead of obsessing over the things you can’t do, focus on what you’re able to do. You may not be able to get out of bed today, but you’re still able to read a book, write in a journal or call friends.

Accept “good enough”: Living with a chronic illness or disability means that there are days when you simply won’t be at your best. Striving for peak performance every day simply isn’t realistic. If you’re unable to cook dinner for your spouse as you promised, but you’re able to order take-out instead, you can rest assured they will be just as appreciative of it.

Accept change: As the old adage goes, “This too shall pass.” A chronic illness can be unpredictable, but that means the experiences of it are never permanent. Remember that your symptoms will subside because that’s simply the nature of your condition.

Take care of yourself: A healthy diet, getting plenty of rest and making time for activities you enjoy will all boost your emotional well-being. This not only improves your mood, but also makes you less likely to succumb to depressive moments that decrease your resistance.

Build relationships: Spending time with family and loved ones will take you out of your own head and provide the support you need during difficult moments. If you need to create these supportive relationships, look at outlets including volunteer groups, religious meetings and chapters of local community organizations.