A lot of what we usually write about explores logical, structured, ways of tackling anxiety and mental health, so you'd be forgiving for thinking we've gone a bit 'airy fairy' with this post!
Some people might find the concept of hope a bit 'wishy washy'. What exactly does hope mean? Can we actually use it as a way of tackling our mental health problems?
We believe you can.
But first, despair
Before you get confused as to why we've started with despair, we thought it'd be good to give some perspective to the concept of 'hope' by firstly looking at its opposite.
The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of despair is:
"The complete loss or absence of hope".
The Cambridge English Dictionary's definition expands nicely on this:
"The feeling that there is no hope and that you can do nothing to improve a difficult or worrying situation".
We're particularly drawn to the bit about "the feeling that...you can do nothing" within this definition. Despair, it seems, comes from a place where we believe we have no power to change our situation.
The effect of despair on mental health
If we think of despair in terms of 'mindset', then someone who feels despair will have little faith that their situation will improve.
We've talked before about the importance of managing negative thinking. If we think our situation is never going to change we're less likely to do anything about our problems.
It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; nothing ever changes because we don't do anything to change the situation.
It's probably obvious at this point that despair is not really going to help anybody who's struggling with their mental health.
What, then, is hope?
In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of hope is:
'A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen'.
While we think this is an accurate definition, it's important not to equate it with having unrealistic expectations.
Setting expectations which are too high or unrealistic can be anxiety-inducing and may set us up to fail if they're unachievable. Rather, hope is about wanting something to happen and having a certain level of belief that it will happen.
How hope can help with mental health
We recognise that it can be difficult during challenging times to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
However, if we assume there'll be no end to our problems then that's exactly what will happen. Nothing will ever change; we don't expect it to change so we don't make the effort to change.
On the other hand, if we have a sense of hope that things can be different then that's a much more positive mindset to start from.
Is having hope 'enough'?
Having hope is all about balance. We need to set realistic expectations for what we want, and believe we can achieve them. Without that belief, it'd be hard to have hope.
However, having hope alone isn't enough. Hope and belief are all well and good, but they have to be coupled with action in order for changes to occur.
For example, you could have a hope that you get that promotion at work, but you're not going to get it by sitting back and just hoping it's given to you. You have to put in the work to make it happen. Of course there are still no guarantees you'll get it, but you'll have more chance if you take action than if you sit back and do nothing.
So, don't just hope that things will get better. Instead, use your hope as a motivation towards taking the steps to make change happen.
That's how hope can help with mental health 🙂