It is doubtful that anyone would disagree that we all have been through a full year of some of the greatest challenges of our lives, some people more than others. The uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and depression that have resulted, have taken a toll on everyone’s mental and emotional health, no matter how healthy an individual happens to be. And the future is still uncertain. Yet, here we are, still standing, in spite of the multiple losses many of us have experienced. By now, we have had our hope tested extraordinarily. So, what does hope have to do with mental health?—practically everything.
The connection between hope and mental health is very strong and significant. Hope is great predictor of mental health. Not only does it make life more enjoyable, but it also provides resilience against life setbacks as well as mental health issues like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Resilience is the key to the connection between hope and mental health. It refers to the ability to bounce back more quickly from adverse experiences and learn from those experiences. Hope also offers chemical benefits in the form of endorphins and lowered stress levels. Researchers do not view hope as a passive emotional state but as an active coping approach. “Hope is how we can think about our goals for the future to the extent that we can identify pathways and strategies to achieve these goals and then maintain the motivation…to keep working towards these goals, even in the face of obstacles or setbacks.” (Matthew Gallagher, Univ of Houston, asst. professor psychology). So, hope is a resource available to us that makes us emotionally stronger. It isn’t always easy, but it is effective in helping people flourish in many areas of life. (Gallagher).
Hope is motivation to act because we feel that there is a possibility that the outcome that we want might happen. Hope is sometimes elusive. That feeling of being overwhelmed or helpless can be mediated by shifting attention from the big picture to the things one can control. Gratitude and appreciation stoke this fire of a larger hope. And those are well within our control. We don’t want to get lost in this place of “it will never happen” because that removes a person’s ability to take the next right action. And sometimes that’s all we can do. (Nancy Colier, psychotherapist and interfaith minister).
FIVE WAYS TO CULTIVATE HOPE AND REDUCE ANXIETY:
- Focus on your strengths to overcome difficulties as you move forward in life. Remembering and using our personal strengths creates confidence that we can get through whatever comes our way.
- Practice gratitude which is more effective than self-control, patience, or forgiveness in creating hope for the future.
- Reframe negative thoughts—look at whatever is causing you to feel afraid or hopeless in a different way. For example, you might shift the thought, “I’m never going to stop feeling anxious about everything that is going on” to “It’s natural to be anxious right now, and there are things I can do to make it better.”
- Limit media exposure—news coverage and social media, concentrating on the most frightening and sensational aspects of events, can make us more vulnerable to vicarious trauma and increased feelings of anxiety and distress.
- Spend time with hopeful, optimistic people rather than negative people.
Hope and mental health are inextricably linked. And we can strengthen both by taking small, daily actions that will help us thrive even in the midst of uncertainty. (www.newportacademy.com)
So, even though our lives during the pandemic have been very challenging and perhaps forever changed, there have been some unexpected blessings. Recognizing and appreciating those blessings have much to do with the hope that we have maintained. We, as Christians are strongly encouraged by our “God of hope” (Romans 15:13) to be hopeful, as it is mentioned in the (NIV) Bible 167 times. On Easter Sunday, Covenant will be having a Celebration of Hope. Be sure to participate by submitting a video (instructions in March newsletter). Let’s celebrate the strength of the hope that has brought us this far. “In His name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:21)