Sarah Cox, Psy.D, Clinical Psychologist
At a time when our nation and the world face uncertainty and fear, we have also seen resiliency, innovation, and connection in our communities. How is it possible that individuals, businesses and neighborhoods have come together for the greater good, even while suffering, loss, and pain abound?
Hope is the expectation for positive things to happen in the future, coupled with motivation and action to make these aspirations come to life. April is the National Month of Hope, and the timing couldn’t be more fitting.
But how do we cultivate hope when we feel worry, sadness, or even hopelessness?
Challenging our unhelpful thinking may allow us to feel hope more easily. Reminding ourselves that positive, joyful moments have happened in the past, and that they will happen again, encourages us to think in more useful ways.
This balanced thinking prevents us from dwelling on struggle or fantasizing about the future, but rather allows us to be present and available to take action on what is happening today. What can I do, in this moment, to improve my situation?
Mindfulness strategies can also bring our focus more into the present moment, reminding us that positive moments are also happening now, despite also feeling intense or complicated emotions.
Did self-quarantine allow for more unexpected family time than you would have had otherwise? Have you seen encouraging messages written on sidewalks, or neighbors looking out for elderly friends on your street?
We can consciously increase our awareness about gestures of kindness and brave behavior. Once we are more aware of the positive change happening around us, we can also be more intentional about having gratitude for these positive experiences. In turn, we may be more apt to make change ourselves; spending increased time outdoors, reaching out to loved ones more often, or making healthy choices for our bodies.
Aspiration to change, motivation for change, and action to support change allows us to feel hope for the future, even when the present is challenging.
When remaining hopeful is hard, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of supportive others to hold hope for you. Family, friends, medical providers, or therapists who have your best interests at heart may be a resource in times when being optimistic about the future is a struggle. Staying connected with others, even virtually given current circumstances, allows us to share our dreams and move forward with our goals. Our personal fan club can motivate us to move from fantasizing or wishing about change to developing a plan and taking specific steps to meet goals.
The shift in mindset from “I wish I could, but that will never happen for me” to “I believe things could be different, and this is the next right thing toward achieving that goal” is the progression from lacking hope to having hope. Visualizing oneself making plans and executing goals leads to more positive attitudes about accomplishing behavior change.
Once a hopeful outlook is established, we may experience health benefits as a result of holding this mindset. Research findings interpreted by American Psychological Association suggests that hope improves overall well-being, including increased happiness and reduced depression or anxiety. We tend to use healthier strategies for coping with distress if we maintain an attitude of hope.
The motivation, planning and action that happens as a result of holding hope for oneself and for the future contributes to resiliency and better outcomes following trauma. This applies to our response to our society’s collective trauma amidst COVID-19 as well.
It is never too late to dream, to plan, to act. It is never too late to build a sense of hope.