A Remedy for Pain

A body of research shows that people who demonstrate higher levels of resilience tend to recover faster, manage pain better, be less susceptible to chronic depression and anxiety, and have better overall health outcomes than those who are less resilient. For example, a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology looked at 300 women with RA and found that those who scored high on resilience questionnaires reported less RA-related pain than those with lower scores.

A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine looked at 275 patients with knee OA and found that those who exhibited the most resilience-related characteristics were also the most likely to show self-efficacy – for example, taking the initiative to see a physician or to exercise regularly. They also reported less pain and an increased ability to perform everyday activities compared with less resilient study participants.

“Resilience impacts thoughts and, therefore, behavior in profound ways,” says Chicago-based psychologist and physical therapist Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD. “A less resilient person experiencing a flare might think, ‘Well, I can’t exercise,’ or ‘My doctor isn’t helping me enough.’ A resilient individual thinks, ‘How can I improve my situation? What can I do to get moving again?’”

Further, resilience requires tapping into a set of coping skills that reduce stress levels and the stress hormones that are known to exacerbate arthritis pain.

Build Your Resilience

Experts agree that some people seem to be naturally resilient, but a wealth of research shows others can develop it and bolster their buoyancy. “It’s a skill that can be developed and honed over time,” says Wicks.

Try these strategies to build your resilience – and bounce back better.

Focus on the upside. Studies show that optimism is part and parcel of resilience; the more hopeful you feel, the more resilient you’ll be. Boosting your optimism requires you to “reframe your experience so that you’re aware of the negative, but focused on the positive,” says David Hellerstein, MD, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. Ask yourself three questions, he says: “Does this provide new opportunities? Can I look at this differently? Is there any good to come out of it?"