It is easy to get caught up in the news feeds and emotional messaging on our cell phones. Between the pandemic’s impact on business, restrictions on personal contact and the political drama south of the border, I was starting to get dragged down the rabbit hole, becoming more anxious and depressed about things outside of my control.
With an uncertain and potentially difficult winter ahead, I found myself starting to become more anxious and distracted about the general state of the economy and political affairs in and outside of the country. That was until I recently read a very timely article in the Wall Street Journal written by Elizabeth Bernstein, Finding Hope When Everything Feels Hopeless.
The article was the catalyst I needed to change perspective and focus on what I could control rather than being distracted and worried about what I could not. Those challenges can sometimes seem overwhelming. This change in perspective had a very calming impact by replacing anxious thoughts with ones of hope and a sense of control in an uncertain world.
As Elizabeth Bernstein clearly pointed our in her article, hope is important for both our physical and mental health. It protects us from the worst impacts of stress. Research has found that people with higher levels of hope have better coping skills, are more resilient, solve problems better, experience lower levels of burnout, communicate better and build stronger more trusting relationships.
Hope is different from optimism. Optimism is simply being positive about future outcomes. Hope is action driven. It is about finding ways to take control and taking positive steps that move you and others towards a vision of a better future. This was clearly reflected in Martin Luther Jr.’s famous speech, I have a dream.
The area of the brain that is activated when we are hopeful sits at the intersection between the limbic system, which governs our emotions, and the prefrontal cortex, where thoughts and actions are initiated. This means we can choose to be hopeful. Hope is also a powerful motivator to action that impacts how we feel about ourselves and our wellbeing because of its juncture between our emotional and thought driven parts of our brain.
It is a choice we can all make. Think of hope as the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for our brain to help keep us energized and more productively engaged with the people and the world we live in.
Hope is malleable. If you are struggling, you can take steps to increase your sense of hope:
- Complete the “Adult Trait Hope Scale” designed by the psychologist C.R. Snyder to identify specific areas you can improve
- Read history to put current events in perspective
- Create a more positive vision of the future for yourself and think about the steps you need to take to make it happen
- Start with small manageable steps to avoid becoming overwhelmed
- Follow the advice of Nobel laureate, author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and make every word you speak or write matter, so think about and use hopeful language
Learning to be more hopeful will make you feel better and be more productive.