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WHAT IS “HARDINESS”? OVER 30 YEARS AGO, DR. SUZANNE KOBASA OUELLETTE INTRODUCED THIS CONCEPT. SHE STUDIED EXECUTIVES WHO LIVED WITH HIGH LEVELS OF STRESS AND FOUND THAT THOSE WHO FLOURISHED DESPITE THE STRESS SHARED THREE CHARACTERISTICS:

 

(1) the belief that they can control or influence the events of their experience

(2) an ability to feel deeply involved in or committed to the activities of their lives

(3) the anticipation of change as an exciting challenge.

 

The concept of hardiness received a lot of research attention in the years that followed. Recently, the concept of resilience has become popular, and it shares several features with hardiness. According to Helen Herrmann, MD, resilience refers to positive adaptation, or the ability to maintain or regain mental health, despite experiencing adversity.

Public health expert Donald Stewart, PhD, and colleagues found that resilience among those with a chronic illness is associated with “self-efficacy” (believing in yourself), having good self-esteem, a sense of control and hope, acceptance of what can’t be changed and determination.

The American Psychological Association suggests that resilience is not a personal trait; rather, it is a set of skills that anyone can learn. Being resilient doesn’t mean that the stress of chronic pain isn’t bothersome or that you pretend you aren’t in pain. It means that you have acquired a set of coping strategies that help you to live life, despite pain.

THREE WAYS TO BOUNCE BACK FROM KEY STRESSORS, INCLUDING CHRONIC PAIN OR ILLNESS:

Build feelings of control.

Believing that you don’t have control is a major barrier to managing pain. While pain may prevent you from experiencing control in some areas, there are ways for you to be in control. It is important that you make an effort every day to notice and applaud the ways in which you can still exercise control. It may be tempting to downplay those domains. Avoid the temptation. Building feelings of control will help you to be more resilient.

Control negative emotion.

Negativity interferes with coping. While you can’t wish your negative emotions away, you can learn to manage them. Use relaxation or meditation to reduce anxiety and to feel in control of the physical aspects of negative emotion. Also, notice how your thoughts can produce negative emotions.

Spend a day or two really paying attention to what is going on inside your head. Are you thinking scary, angry, upsetting or depressing thoughts? Remember that you are in charge of your thoughts. If a thought makes you feel distressed, ask yourself why you are choosing to think it. Realistic thoughts aimed at solving problems will be more effective.

Increase positive emotion.

Positive emotion is an important resource for pain management. You may protest that your pain prevents you from feeling positive. However, with practice, you may find small sources of joy, meaning and satisfaction. Mindfulnessis one strategy that can help you recognize and appreciate the small but important sources of positive emotion in your life. Cultivating experiences that allow you to exert control and learning to increase positive emotions can help you engage in life more fully and find paths around the barriers that pain can create. With practice, you can learn to be more and more resilient. {PP}

 

About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.

DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.