Rising Through Resilience: Author Dr. Donna Chacko On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
Published in
8 min readOct 19, 2021


…Decide to dedicate time to building your resilience. Decide how much time you will spend for the self-care you choose in steps 2–5 below and how you will free up time. Will you start with 10 minutes a day? What might you sacrifice? Less screen time, social media, YouTube? I started with fifteen minutes of prayer time, Edwin joined an exercise group, Gina joined a Serenity and Health weekly group, and Pat started piano lessons. It all starts with a decision.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Donna Chacko.

After graduating from the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, Dr. Chacko practiced medicine for nearly 40 years. Her experiences as wife, mother, and doctor helped her to better understand all the dimensions of health and led her to start a ministry called Serenity and Health. She promotes health of body, mind, and spirit through her blog and recently published her first book, Pilgrimage: A Doctor’s Healing Journey.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I‘m married, the mother of three daughters, and a grandmother. I practiced medicine for years but now I’m passionate about helping people find their own paths to health of body, mind, and spirit. To do this, I founded a ministry called Serenity and Health, I blog, and I recently published my first book, Pilgrimage: A Doctors Healing Journey. In my journey I learned the most by struggling in a long and difficult marriage, working with the poor, and experiencing burnout. I like to share what I learned and that is why I wrote my book and why I blog.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Practicing medicine in Washington, DC, in a facility for the homeless and in a community clinic for the poor was eye opening. I saw stress and poverty that made people suffer in ways I couldn’t heal even though I was their doctor. But then I would see these same people dramatically improve when they got a job, learned English, or in some way found hope. This was my introduction to healing of the body by first healing the mind or spirit.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think Serenity and Health is special because it offers participants a path to abundant health — and all services are free. One participant who stands out in my mind is Pat. When she began the program, she was so stressed and anxious her mind never stopped. Through the program, she learned the value of silence and meditative prayer. With practice, her mind quieted, making her more happy and stress-free than in a long time. People now tell her she is one of the calmest people that they know.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story.

I was helped by many, many people but probably was most influenced by an author, now deceased. He is Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled. I learned from him that love is a decision. I also learned how critical it is to take ownership of the consequences of my decisions instead of moaning, groaning, and blaming others when things don’t turn out as I anticipated.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is the ability to adapt to stress. A resilient person will get up if she falls down, learn from her mistakes, try again, and be able to reframe situations so as to not take everything personally.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

To me, courage and resilience are not similar. Courage is a way of thinking or acting that is marked by strength, confidence, and bravery — you can decide to act in courageous ways if you work to face your fears. Resilience is a state of being that you can achieve over time if you incorporate certain kinds of behaviors and activities into your life. Examples are participating in community, being of service, attending church, exploring the arts, finding meaning in your life, volunteering, and enjoying nature, pets, or music, etc.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

When I worked at Christ House, a medical recovery facility for the homeless in Washington, DC, I observed similarities in the stories I heard from the individual residents. They often started life in poverty and dealt with neglect, injustice, and the lack of father figure — -then they had rough lives with drugs, crime, jail, and homelessness. After admission to Christ House, many returned to their faith, started healing, became volunteers themselves, and found incredible meaning and joy in their lives. When I think of resilience, I always think of these men.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Many of my colleagues thought I was crazy when I left my radiation oncology medical practice at age 51 to enter a three-year family practice residency. I wanted to be able to volunteer or somehow work for the poor and didn’t think I could do that in my specialty.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

My first marriage was long and difficult. My family suffered greatly. For years I seriously considered divorce. Then three years after I finally made a clear decision to stay married, my husband died. So, I was single with three teenagers after 27 years of marriage. A few years later, I changed medical specialties, moved to Washington, DC, where I cared for the poor — and nine years after being widowed I married a wonderful man. I am happy now and a better person because I learned so much through those years of trial. So, yes, I am much stronger after my bounceback.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

When my personal life was a mess, my misery led me to make changes. Those steps gradually made me more resilient, more able to adapt and grow. I made friends, became active at church, started volunteering, enjoyed swing dancing…. and now I continue with a larger community, deeper prayer life, gardening, and expressing myself through writing.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Decide to dedicate time to building your resilience. Decide how much time you will spend for the self-care you choose in steps 2–5 below and how you will free up time. Will you start with 10 minutes a day? What might you sacrifice? Less screen time, social media, YouTube? I started with fifteen minutes of prayer time, Edwin joined an exercise group, Gina joined a Serenity and Health weekly group, and Pat started piano lessons. It all starts with a decision.
  2. Add silence to your day. Peggy’s mind was on overdrive and her work was stressing her out. She finally realized that she needed to cut off the news and do her walking outside in nature rather than on the treadmill while listening to news or podcasts. William sits outside with the birds and squirrels to unwind after work. Lisa journals.
  3. Retrain your brain. If your brain is always busy worrying about the past or anxious about the future, you can begin a practice to help you stay in the present moment. Many people take a few deep breaths or say a memorized prayer or phrase (mine is “My Lord and My God”) every time they become aware they are getting stressed, irritated, or angry. This will bring you back to the moment and allow you to intentionally respond to stressors rather than mindlessly reacting to them. This is mindfulness — a key to becoming resilient.
  4. Retrain your body. Healthy habits will change your body, mind, and spirit. Edwin joined a faith-based exercise boot camp. He stuck with it and found everything in his life changing for the better. He was calmer and described experiencing much less stress in his marriage and family. Other ideas…start with a walk for 15 minutes each day, eliminate junk food, adjust your diet so you are eating at least five servings of fruits and veggies daily.
  5. Turn to a higher power. Without a God who I can turn to and trust, I would be a mess. Addicts who follow the 12-step recovery program understand that their higher power is the key to recovery. In step one they admit they are powerless, out of control, and in step two they “came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” My conclusion is that having God or a higher power in one’s life is the most important key to becoming resilient.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I want to promote health of body, mind, and spirit, and help people find their own path to serenity and health, step by step. I discuss the many steps that can work in Serenity and Health — such as quiet, prayer, exercise, mindfulness, eating plenty of fruits and veggies. I am convinced we can drastically reduce suffering in ourselves and the world by starting with these simple steps.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

I want to meet Maria Shriver because I have followed her life, her career, her family, her ups and downs, and now her Sunday Paper…I greatly respect her and know we have much in common and would be great friends who could work together to make the world a better place.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Subscribe to Serenity and Health at https://www.serenityandhealth.com/subscribe.

Read my book: SerenityandHealth.com/pilgrimage.

Other contact information:

Twitter: @DonnaChacko

Facebook: facebook.com/serenityandhealthdc

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/donnachacko

Email: dc@serenityandhealth.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!



Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), Journalist, Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor