The Mind's Magic: HOPE

As people return to more normal activities after the COVID-19 pandemic, there is reason to hope.

Hope operates as a protective factor, making people more positive and optimistic about the future.

Some techniques, like letting go of fear, cultivating mindfulness, and focusing on the positive, can help boost hopefulness.

The last few months, we have seen a major shift in COVID-19’s hold on our daily lives. With many Americans vaccinated, mask mandates lifting, and cities opening up to full capacity, the pandemic’s effect is decreasing. This decrease signals an increase in other things, such as hope—particularly the hope that our life can return to a more natural rhythm soon.

But what about the predictions that “life will never be the same” because we’ll be suffering from post-pandemic trauma?

The good news is, hope can help heal trauma, and we are born with the capacity to hope. It points us towards the “light at the end of the tunnel” and away from the dark days and long nights it took to get there. It gets us through our personal challenges and our shared concerns.

6 reasons why we need hope:

If you feel like you’ve lost some of your capacity for hope during the past year, you’re not alone. Here are six reasons why we need it and five ways to get it back:

1. Hope is energizing.

It is more than merely wanting something or thinking about something. When we hope, we also feel it physically—our heart rate increases, our breathing speeds up, our thinking becomes clearer, and our mood becomes more positive. Hoping prepares us to fight despair and pessimism, naturally.

2. Hope moves us forward.

It prepares us to take action, make plans, and move toward our goals. Here’s why I call it mind magic: When we are hopeful, we approach life and our problems with strategic behavior, and the results justify our hope. In other words, hope leads to action, and our action leads to creating a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. We are not ignoring realities; we are creating realities.

3. Hope helps our health.

The self-fulfilling nature of hope can be especially important when we are battling infertility, illness, disability, or a chronic disease. I am not exactly calling hope medicine—but our hope can make us seek answers, tolerate treatment, and be the kind of person that people want to help. Hope may even have more direct health benefits. Neuroscientists find that when we are feeling hopeful, our brain pumps chemicals that can block pain and accelerate healing.

Bernie S Siegel, M.D., a pioneer in psychoneuroimmunology, talked about how emotions like hope link our psychology with our nervous and immune systems. Take any group of people with symptoms, give them a placebo, like a sugar pill, and 1 out of 3 people will feel some relief from their symptoms because hope stimulates the release of our own endogenous painkiller, endorphin.

4. Hope is a protective factor.

According to some studies, optimistic people live longer, and hospital patients with a hopeful, fighting spirit are more likely to survive than patients who give up. According to many other studies, hope is a powerful antidote for anxiety and combat fatigue. After 2020, you can probably tell some stories of your own about hope enhancing your well-being and your patience during the prolonged threats from COVID-19.

5. Hope hones our perspective.

Hope is often intensified by the threat of despair, which is the emotional opposite. We hope even more for company when we are quarantined alone, hope even more for health when we are going through a pandemic, and hope even more for peace when we see civil unrest and injustice. And the more we hope, the more we appreciate a dream coming true.

6. Hope is not a steady state.

Hope is constantly peaking, diminishing, clicking off for short periods, then building again. That’s probably a good thing because living in a constant state of hope for long periods of time can be exhausting. Think, for example, of the things we hoped for all year—waiting for a call, a report, a test result, a check, or the end of the pandemic. Our body was always ready for action, and our mind was continually alert. If hope becomes a reality, we can finally experience both physical and psychological relief.

But what can we do when hope is still in the distance and we want to last for the long run?

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