10 Tips for Building Resilience in the Face of Chronic Illness

By Mary J. Yerkes
NABBW’s Living with Chronic Illness Expert

When faced with the pain and fatigue of chronic illness, do you tend to rise to the challenge or fall apart? Resilience is the ability to roll with the punches, to bounce back from stressful and challenging events. It involves adapting to change and addressing life’s problems constructively. When you have resilience, you discover new opportunities in the face of great challenges.

In contrast, if you lack resilience, you tend to dwell on problems, feel victimized by life’s misfortunes, and turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or compulsive shopping. You may even develop such mental health problems as depression and anxiety.

Resilience isn’t about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” or living in denial. It doesn’t mean repressing negative emotions of your feelings of anger, pain, and disappointment. Resilient individuals feel negative emotions, but they understand how to work through them.

In fact, research has found common factors among people who have survived and thrived in the face of adversity and hardships. Resilient individuals possess skills and qualities that enable them to cope during times of stress. Studies reveal that such positive internal and external factors as social support and communication and problem solving skills can make it possible to overcome negative life circumstances.

Tips to Improve Your Resilience

The good news is you can learn to be more resilient. Here are some tips to help you get started.

  1. Cultivate connection. Build strong, healthy relationships with family and friends. Surround yourself with people who affirm you, recognize your strengths and natural, innate abilities, and provide the support and acceptance you need. Sign up for that class or join that club. Volunteer, join a faith community, invite your neighbor over for coffee, or participate in a local support group.
  2. Accept “good enough.” Striving for perfection in life creates unnecessary stress, feeds dissatisfaction, and keeps you from enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Be content with “pretty good” in life’s challenging season. Is a spotless house really that important? The truth is your grandchild will be just as happy with a store-bought cake as one that requires you to spend hours in the kitchen.
  3. Focus on what you can control. When you live with chronic illness, you lose control of many things. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can still control. If chronic pain makes it impossible to get out of bed one day, use the time to read a good book, write in your journal, or pick up a magazine.
  4. Find your purpose. You have a unique personality, talents, and abilities, all of which point toward your life’s purpose. Finding meaning and significance in life starts with understanding your life’s mission. What steps can you take to discover your reason for being? Think back to when you were a child. What did you enjoy doing? What comes easily for you?
  5. Learn from experience. How have you successfully handled adversity in the past? Are there people you know you have handled hardship well? What can you learn from their lives? Build on what worked for you in the past and others’ life lessons.
  6. Maintain perspective. When you’re too close to a situation, it’s hard to maintain perspective. Surround yourself with healthy relationships and people who can speak into your life. Friends tend to see things that we don’t. Open yourself to input from others. Ask individuals what they think about a given situation. It can mean the difference between just surviving or thriving.
  7. Take care of yourself. Tend to your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. This means engaging in hobbies and activities that you enjoy, getting plenty of sleep, honoring your limits, and eating well. If you are unable to overcome mental or emotional obstacles yourself, seek professional help.
  8. Expect change. Change is the only thing that’s constant. When you expect changes in your health, relationships, and finances, it is easier to adapt. You can learn to be flexible and reduce stress by learning to accept the unpredictability of chronic illness.
  9. Laugh. Laughter is good for the soul. It releases endorphins, a “feel good” chemical, boosts immunity, and enhances well being. Can’t find anything to laugh about in your current situation? Rent a funny movie or read a humorous book.
  10. Set and accomplish goals. It’s important to do something every day that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Set goals for yourself daily, monthly, and even annually. Setting goals can help you look toward the future with excitement and anticipation.

Resilience can help you overcome the trauma of living with chronic illness, live a significant life while honoring your limitations, and find creative solutions to surmounting obstacles. It may even help prevent mental illness.

Take steps today to build a resilient life. It could mean the difference between surviving or thriving with chronic illness.

Mary J. Yerkes is a professional life coach who provides transformational coaching to the chronically ill, women in leadership, and new and aspiring non-fiction writers. She helps motivated individuals, groups, and organizations find their purpose and live their passion. With more than 25 years’ experience in the corporate world and church leadership, Mary launched her writing, speaking, and coaching career after being diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. She is passionate about helping others from all walks of life live life to the full. She is currently working on a book, When Life Hurts: Ten Transforming Choices Every Woman Can Make. Mary is a member of the Christian Coaches Network, the International Coach Federation, and the International Association of Business Communicators, as well as other professional networks. You can visit Mary online at NewLifeChristianCoaching.com and MaryYerkes.com.