Throughout my career as a nurse — and even as the Chief Nursing Officer for Aetna — I have worked closely with many types of individuals at various stages of health and well-being. Often times, patients with similar circumstances and diagnoses had very different experiences and outcomes. The patients who did better had something about them. Each possessed a personal quality that was as much a part of their treatment plans as any medication or procedure – resilience.
Resilience is a person’s ability to withstand stress and catastrophe, to survive in the face of adversity. For a child, resilience may refer to their ability to overcome a difficult childhood and go on to lead a successful life. For a patient with a chronic illness, resilience is the ability to overcome feelings of grief, sadness and stress to successfully manage their conditions. Resilience is not extraordinary, it happens every day. Indeed it can be said that it is a personal journey. But health care providers have the ability to nurture and replenish patients’ resilience.
Many studies have focused on resilience and found that the experiences of patients are improved when doctors, nurses and other health care providers take steps that tap into and enhance a patient’s resilience. Following are a few steps that help patients build resilience, which helps them to cope with and ultimately manage their disease more effectively.
Encourage a social support network. Having a support network is one of the major contributing factors to a person’s resilience. Outreach and support groups can provide patients and their families with valuable information about the disease process, coping techniques and emotional support.
Spend time on education. Helping patients understand their illnesses and ways to live with it promotes acceptance and builds resilience. There will be good and bad days. Being resilient doesn’t mean a patient doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Knowing how to make realistic plans and carry them out are linked to resilience.
Provide positive feedback. For someone with a chronic condition or illness, small and large accomplishments are worth celebrating. A little encouragement can go a long way and helps build self-confidence, which reinforces resilience.
Explore technology. Technology can help patients manage the stress of living with a chronic disease. One example is the meQ app. The app gives patients tools to evaluate their stress and digital coaching to help manage stress and build resilience. PatientsLikeMe is an example of a website where patients and their caregivers can find others with the same condition and share experiences, enhancing their social network.
Health care professionals can support patients as they learn to live with chronic illness. Giving them strategies that can help increase their resilience can help them thrive and live fulfilled lives.