What is resiliency?
Think of being resilient as the ability to bounce back in the face of difficulties. For people with chronic pain, it means not letting symptoms interfere with living a full life. Resiliency also may make you feel better; experts have found that people with positive outlooks often experience less pain and stress.
Of course, that’s not to say that having chronic pain is a walk in the park. Your symptoms are real, even debilitating, and you shouldn’t dismiss them or any related anxiety or depression. (Always keep your health care provider informed of how you’re feeling.) But know that you can learn to adapt well to major life changes — including living with chronic pain.
Responding with resilience
Experts have identified five areas of life that offer opportunities to build resiliency. Each area is described below, and examples of action steps are given. Some of the suggestions may seem minor, but in combination with the steps they can help you to create a more positive outlook.
- Set a “good-for-you” goal: Whether it’s adding an extra serving of fruit and vegetables to your daily diet or going for a 15-minute walk at lunchtime, committing to a healthy new habit can boost your mood and inspire other changes.
- Perform “range-of-motion” exercises: These simple moves are designed to keep your body flexible. They also can be relaxing. (You can learn more from the two painACTION lessons with videos, entitled “How to develop a safe exercise program,” as well as by searching the website of the Arthritis Foundation.) However, be sure to consult your health care provider before starting any physical activity, as some exercises might not be recommended for your situation.
- Practice seeing “the glass as half full”: If something is getting you down, try to find a positive aspect to it. For instance, if your arthritis pain is making it difficult for you to complete a certain task, try to “rethink” the situation as a chance to catch up on something else or to take a break. Return to the original task when you feel better. If the task is impossible for you to finish, ask for help and consider it a chance to let someone else feel good about helping.
- Gain some perspective: What turns a bad mood around for you? Is it laughing at a funny movie? Spending time with friends, children, or animals? Listening to upbeat music? Make activities that improve your overall outlook an important part of your life, not just something you do when you have the time.
- Create positive emotions: Take the time to do what you love most, even if just for 15 minutes a day or an hour a week. Also, consider volunteering. Studies have found that helping others releases chemicals in the brain that produce positive emotions.
- Take action: Procrastinating or avoiding problems can increase stress and feelings of hopelessness and loss of control. Whenever you can, try to act decisively on situations in your life.
- Nurture relationships: How might you participate more fully in your social life? By planning more sit-down dinners with your family? Going out with friends more? Listening more attentively? Look at ways to strengthen your bonds. Continue to make new connections by taking a class or joining a local organization.
- Connect with your partner: Consider ways to improve communication and closeness in your relationship. For instance, keep in mind that men and women have different approaches to seeking closeness. Knowing what works for your partner (and you!) will make a positive difference.
- Take a breather: At least once a day, step back and recharge. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, try stretching or meditating, listening to soothing music, reading a few pages of a good book, or sitting in a peaceful spot.
- Participate in spiritual practices: What makes you feel hopeful and connected to the world? Maybe it’s prayer or meditation, being part of a faith community, or spending time in nature. Whatever your answer, find meaningful ways to nurture your spirituality.
More resiliency “workouts”
For additional ideas on how to become more resilient, visit the website of the American Psychological Association. Remember: There are many ways to tackle this goal, but as with any “muscle,” strengthening it may take practice and patience. Choose a couple of areas in which to start, and build from there. You’ll likely find that adopting a more resilient outlook will become easier and more natural over time.