“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness” – Desmond Tutu
Hope can be defined as “an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome.” In psychology, hope is identified as the intentional act of setting goals and working toward them with purpose. Often, the presence of hope in our lives can be the difference between experiencing a more resilient life or living in a state of despair. Increasing scientific evidence shows that higher levels of hope can positively impact and lessen the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression.
Why is Hope Important?
Every day, men and women go out into the world and end up on the frontlines protecting our country. Whether it be on American soil in our communities or overseas, the sacrifices our military service members and first responders make to ensure our safety often go unnoticed.
In many cases, men and women who serve experience a multitude of emotional and physical struggles as a result of their line of work. Statistically, the veteran and first responder population experience higher rates of post-traumatic stress and complex post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. Here are some important statistics to note:
- At any given time, 7-8% of the U.S. population is suffering from post-traumatic stress. These figures increase significantly when corresponding to veterans and first responders. Anywhere from 11-20% of the veteran/first responder population will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.
- 1 in 10 veterans who returned from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who were treated at the VA experienced addictions to alcohol or other drugs
- First responders, including police and firefighters experience post-traumatic stress and depression rates at nearly 5 times the civilian population
In 2004, oncologist and author Jerome Groopman published his experiences of the effects of hope on his patients. In his book, The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness, he highlighted the ways that increasing a person’s level of hope can actually block physical pain by releasing chemicals like endorphins and enkephalins, a naturally produced chemical that mimics the effects of morphine.
How to increase feelings of hope in your daily life
Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality. – Jonas Salk
One thing that we can all be certain of is that life isn’t easy for anyone. Everyone experiences pitfalls and sometimes certain aspects of our life, like our chosen profession, can increase stress and feelings of hopelessness. With new information about the ways that our brains function, we know that we are more in control of our capabilities to cope with daily hardships than we realize. Here are 5 ways to increase hope in your daily life:
1. Think about an experience where something you hoped for came to fruition
One study showed that people experienced increased feelings of hope when they wrote about past experiences where something they had hoped for came true.
2. Be mindful of the content you consume on social media
Many of us spend time scrolling through social media or watching news. A lot of the stories we see can insight feelings of sadness, fear, and anger which create more stress in our bodies. Limiting negative images, news and content you consume can improve your overall mood and decrease feelings of hopelessness.
3. Find ways to connect with community
It’s much easier for feelings of hopelessness to settle in when you don’t have support or positive outlets for stress. Connecting with community is a great way to increase feelings of hope. A study on hope amongst community organizers showed that hope can be a powerful tool for motivation and connection and that it can be a catalyst for positive change.
4. Acts of kindness
Believe it or not, doing things for others is a great way to increase hopefulness and improve your mood. Research has found that volunteering and donating actually have positive impacts on your physical health.
5. Connect with people who have overcome similar adversities
Throughout history, millions of people have found ways to overcome hardships. Learning about or connecting with people who have survived similar struggles to you can help you envision a brighter future for yourself. Whether you find a mentor, peer or even a role model that you may never meet, the knowledge that people have made it through the same thing you’re experiencing can be a light at the end of the tunnel.