happy, calm woman

 

One of my primary roles as a psychotherapist is infusing hope in my clients, especially at the onset of the therapeutic journey.

This is due in part, because people often wait until a psychological crisis to seek psychotherapy.

The beauty of reaching out and asking for help is the inherent good will within—no matter how bad things are, this individual believes on some level that things could be better in their life.

And that’s a good thing, because science confirms the positive benefits on hope as a healing tool.

“Researchers are learning that a change in mindset has the power to alter neurochemistry. Belief and expectation—the key elements of hope—can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation and motor function,” says researcher and writer, Jerome Groopman.

Other research shows hope is a powerful weapon to fight depression:

“We’re finding that hope is consistently associated with fewer symptoms of depression. And the good news is that hope is something that can be taught, and can be developed in many of the people who need it,” said Ohio State University researcher Jennifer Cheavens.


What is hope?

According to Hope Theory, developed by Charles R. Snyder and his colleagues, hope consists of agency and pathways. A person who is hopeful possesses the will and expectation that goals will be achieved, and a varied set of different strategies within their power to reach their goals.

In short, hope involves having goals, along with the desire and plan to achieve them.


What hope is not

A big difference between hope and wishing is the latter can imply passivity: “I wish things would be different.” Hope, on the other hand, implies an active stance: “I want my job situation to change and I’m going to put in the hard work to make it happen.”

False hope does not recognize the risks and dangers that true hope does. False hope can lead to impulsive choices and poor decision making. True hope acknowledges that real threats exist and employs problem-solving to find the best path around them.

Hope is half optimism, and half believing in your abilities to get what you want.

 

How to cultivate hope

1. Acknowledge your strengths. Anxious people have a tendency to discount their positive traits, while over-emphasizing their shortcomings. Focus on what you’re doing right.

2. Keep your attitude positive and light. When setting a goal it’s important to have fun with the process. Obstacles will exist, so make a plan and try your best. Laugh at yourself and be okay with mistakes.

3. Seek supportive relationships. Spend time with optimistic and forward-thinking people. Their energy, support and encouragement will help you stay focused and accountable.

4. Expose yourself to more diverse situations. The anxious person’s world can become small and constricted. Stepping out of your comfort zone and interacting with different people and settings reminds you that you can tolerate uncertainty.

5. Find hopeful stories. The world is full of people who have overcome immense adversity. Besides providing hope, others’ tales can add scale and perspective to your situation.

6. Take care of yourself. Make intentional efforts daily to nourish your mind, body and spirit. According to researcher Shane Lopez, studies show that hope promotes healthy behaviors, including fruit and vegetable consumption, regular exercise, safe sex practices and quitting smoking. “Hope for the future is clearly linked with daily habits that support health and prevent disease. They make an investment in the future that pays off in the present: in the way they eat, exercise, conserve energy, take care of themselves and stick to their treatment plan.”

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Did you know?…Team Happy teaches intrepid mental wellness warriors how to rewire their brain so that positive emotions and healthy relationships take up more mental bandwidth. For information on joining, click here.

Yours in hope + healing,

—Linda Esposito