Learn from experience. If you have a chronic disease, you’re already more resilient than you probably give yourself credit for, says Patricia O’Gorman, PhD, a psychologist in Albany, N.Y., who specializes in trauma and resilience. “When you’re dealing with a new setback, that’s the time to ask yourself, ‘How have I dealt with problems in the past? What worked, and which strategies should I skip this time?’” When pianist Lisa Emrich, 43, was diagnosed with RA she took this approach, drawing on her experience with multiple sclerosis. “I saw a doctor right away, kept getting tested until I had a diagnosis, and worked with my physician to formulate a plan – in this case, medication plus occupational therapy, which ultimately allowed me to return to playing the piano,” she says.

Expand your knowledge. Ask lots of questions when you’re at the rheumatologist’s office, and regularly read up on arthritis and health. “Learning boosts resilience,” says Dr. Hellerstein. “The more you learn about how best to live with your condition, the more control you have. Control as well as resourcefulness give you the confidence to move forward in the face of adversity.”

Find your bliss. Make time to find and do things you love. As resilience researchers at the University of California, Riverside, wrote for the Handbook of Adult Resilience (Guilford Press, 2010), “emotions like joy, satisfaction and interest … provide individuals with a sort of ‘psychological time-out’ in the face of stress and help them perceive the ‘big picture’ of their situations." 

Get moving. In addition to its physical benefits, exercise “decreases anxiety and depression, improves sleep and increases the levels of mood-improving chemicals, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that improves brain health,” says Dr. Hellerstein. Studies have shown that physically fit people don’t experience the same spikes in blood pressure and stress hormones such as cortisol in stressful situations.

Seek support. Support systems are a linchpin of resilience. “If you don’t feel like you have to go it alone, it’s much easier to push forward when the going gets tough,” explains Wicks. Not used to asking for assistance? “Most people have a hard time with that,” points out O’Gorman. “Realize that it’s not a sign of weakness. Chances are, your loved ones want to help and are simply waiting for you to ask.”

Count your blessings. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside reviewed 225 studies and found that individuals who expressed gratitude or wrote in a gratitude journal at least several times a week felt more connected, autonomous, optimistic and happy – traits that contribute to resilience. “Gratitude makes you think about what you have, which, in turn, keeps you from focusing on what you don’t have,” says Wicks. “When you feel blessed, it’s easier to keep going – no matter what you’re up against.”

Reyers believes it. She is thankful for not only her family, friends and great new career, but also the lessons she’s learned from RA. “I look at RA as a gift that has taught me to slow down and enjoy each day,” she says. “Because of it, I have a more balanced life and existence.”