Research shows resilience can ease stress and improve life satisfaction among people diagnosed with cancer, but what does it mean to be “resilient”? In anticipation of our November 18 community meeting in Denver, Colorado, Jill Mitchell, LCSW, PhD, OSW-C, of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers offers some insight and tips on being resilient.
In physics, “resilience” is defined as the ability of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed, and to release that energy (bounce back). The limit of resilience, in turn, is the point at which the material can no longer absorb energy elastically without creating a permanent distortion.
But resilience in the cancer world, is not as much about bouncing “back” as it is about bouncing “forward” – creating a “new normal” or even growing through the process of survivorship.
Resilience goes beyond just coping or just being “elastic.” It often also involves (or sometimes demands) a “permanent distortion in one’s life” (such as a loss of a breast, or a job or an anticipated future, for example). However, it is these “distortions,” or losses, that can provide the fodder for growth and transformation when we call upon our internal resources (self-esteem, optimism, hopefulness, problem solving) and our external resources (friends and family, social and community support).
I am often awed and humbled by the ways in which people come to cope with and grow through the struggles or suffering they endure due to cancer. One of the most important things to know is that although some people may have a more natural tendency toward resilience, we all can strengthen our ability toward resilience through a few specific strategies:
Start with your strengths – what already works for you, or has worked for you in the past? Perhaps you are someone who needs to gather a lot of information. Perhaps you feel rejuvenated being surrounded by nature, or writing in a journal or meditating. Remind yourself about the strategies you already know help you to cope, and make time for those! Resilience is about developing realistic goals and moving toward them. Start with what works for you.
Develop and use your network of support – Share what you’re going through with your trusted loved ones, friends, and peers. Explore support groups or consult one-on-one with your oncology social worker or other healthcare professionals who can be a resource for support, processing and validation. Asking for help and sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust can feel challenging and uncomfortable for people who are used to being in control or self-dependent. And yet, social support is a critical cornerstone for resilience. Continue reading