Objective: Resilience, the ability to recover from and adapt successfully to stressful situations, is a valuable resource for patients who live with chronic conditions. This qualitative study examines the development of resilience among rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. We aimed to describe the resilience development process and to describe strategies used by patients to cultivate resilience. Methods: Our approach combined ethnographic data collection and narrative analysis methods. Semistructured interviews were conducted with adult RA patients in the US. Interviewees were asked to discuss their experiences with diagnosis, living with RA, coping with challenges, treatment, and health care providers. The interviews were audiorecorded, transcribed, and analyzed to describe the stages of resilience development and to identify patients’ strategies for building/maintaining resilience. Results: Eighteen patients were interviewed, ages 27–80 years and with RA duration of 5–41 years. Patient responses to challenging situations were grouped into 3 stages: 1) lacking capacity to handle the situation, 2) struggling but growing in capacity to handle the situation, and 3) attaining mastery. Patients used 10 strategies to cultivate resilience: perseverance, exchanging social support, pursuing valued activities, flexibility, positive reframing, acceptance, humor, avoiding threatening thoughts, equanimity, and maintaining a sense of control. Conclusion: RA patients acquire resilience in a dynamic process of learning in response to new challenges. Patients use a combination of behavioral and emotion management strategies to cultivate resilience. Awareness of these strategies may benefit patients, health care providers, and researchers developing behavioral interventions and social support programs in the context of RA and other chronic diseases.
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