Strategies for Resilience

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficulty. It’s an essential life skill and key coping mechanism to help us when frightening, challenging or unpleasant events occur. Tapping into resilience can bring confidence, connection and a sense of control as we continue to navigate our journey.

Establishing a Way Forward

As you move forward post-treatment, it’s you who determines your “new normal” lifestyle. Now is the time to make conscious choices, to take an active role in planning and contemplating the future, as opposed to being a “passive recipient of life”. It’s your turn to control your future.

You may need to redefine your priorities. You might also want to let go of some things which aren’t important or helpful to you right now.

Consider this: Who makes the rules? Who says you have to clean the floors every day or change your sheets every week? If these things aren’t your priority right now, it’s OK to delegate or delay them. You CAN change the rules and choose what you spend your time doing.

While this process is not without challenges, it’s important for you to initiate positive steps toward the future you envisage. Try breaking down your goals into small, manageable chunks – maybe a week or a month or so at a time, so you aim to achieve things one small step at a time. If things are very tough, getting through each day can be the best way forward.

Tips for Creating the Future You Want

Focus on What You Can Control
  • Know your strengths and play to them. Pay attention to what’s helpful and positive.
  • You have a choice – make it your own choice and remember, it doesn’t have to be the perfect choice every time. You can change your mind if you want to.
  • It can be helpful to practice acceptance and commitment therapy, where you determine what you can control and what you can’t, with the aim of increasing your psychological flexibility. Your mental health professional can assist with implementation if required.
  • Rather than taking individual incidents or issues out of context, focus on the bigger picture.
  • Forgive yourself if you have a bad day – it’s just one day, then you can reset for tomorrow.
Consciously Determine How You Spend Your Time
  • Ask yourself, “Where do I want to focus my energy?”
  • Be sure to “fill your cup” by restoring your supply of good things, whatever that is for you personally. Engage in doing things you truly enjoy, such as spending time with loved ones, reading, listening to music, dancing, stretching or reminiscing on happy times.
  • Find your happy place or imagine yourself there.
  • A nutritious diet and regular exercise are vital. Keeping fit and healthy is a great way to reduce stress and improve feelings of being in control. After medical consultation, it’s usually safe to exercise, and this is considered part of the standard care in patients treated for cancer.

Simple Strategies for a Healthy Mind

  • Detached mindfulness is a technique where you develop awareness of a thought, then simply observe it rather than engaging with it. Like watching passing clouds – seeing them but doing nothing about them. Sometimes we need to let go of troublesome thoughts and this technique can be very helpful in releasing worries.
  • Worry postponement is another handy technique, where you allocate a specific time of the day – and a limited timeframe – to think about what’s worrying you. Each time a worrying thought arises, you put it aside for later. Allocate 20-30 minutes towards the end of the day as your intensive “worrying time” and do this at least 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Be sure your loved ones are aware that it’s important for you to talk about your feelings. Talking will help you make sense of those feelings and emotions.
  • Try some self-reflection through meditation, or perhaps some journaling – It can be very helpful to get those thoughts out of your head and onto paper or in digital format. Don’t worry if this doesn’t suit you – different things work for different people.

Fear of Cancer Returning/progressing

Most patients report a fear of their cancer returning or progressing. Fear is merely our brain trying to protect us from unpredictability. Managing that fear is the key. You may have limited tools to do that, but you can develop the tools.

For example, when you need to go for scans or other tests, it’s OK to feel stressed. Giving yourself permission to be anxious reduces the burden of the struggle.

Focus on: “What’s a realistic expectation of the situation?”.

Remember to be kind to yourself. What would you say to a friend in this situation? What kind of encouragement would you offer?

If your anxiety is high or if you’re having negative thoughts or feeling helpless, it can be worthwhile talking to your health professional, as there are treatments/strategies which can assist you in handling this.

Reaching Out for Help

Having a sense of connection is important, and most of us want to feel a sense of physical comfort.

Your friends and family are often your closest confidants, but they don’t know what you’re going through unless you tell them. Spend some quality time chatting with someone you trust on a regular basis. Remember, most people want to support you – let them know the best way they can do this.

If you’re struggling emotionally, it’s important to be proactive in raising the issue with your health professional. Be sure to ask questions and be completely clear on what you need or expect from your doctor. When required, your GP can refer you to a mental health practitioner on a mental health care plan, with up to 10 visits subsidised by Medicare.

Many patients recommend connecting with a support group, such as MPA, as early as possible after your diagnosis. No matter what stage of the journey you’re at, it can be most helpful to speak to or spend time with other people who understand what you’re going through.

Useful Resources

Reference: Strategies for Resilience webinar, 10 August 2021, presented by Professor Jane Turner, Doctor of Philosophy, FRANZCP, MBBS, psycho-oncology professional, psychiatrist and researcher.


“This all happened during the beginning of Covid, our home was rented out, we could not travel in our little motor home and I could not wash myself, prepare meals and most other things we take for granted.”
Gaylene Bayfield
MPA Patient Story - Gaylene Bayfield smiling at the camera