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How Can I Utilize Feelings of Hope to Manage Stress?

At this time last year, we were experiencing the last few days of normalcy before all of our lives turned upside down. I think we can all agree a year is a long time and 2020 felt even longer than normal. Time and time again I’ve heard people telling others how important it is to remain hopeful. Reminding people that this time period isn’t permanent, and things will get better. It’s no secret having hope during this ongoing quarantine is important. However, the value of hope doesn’t go away when quarantine ends. Difficult time periods and struggles are a constant part of being human. Hope is what allows us to fight against sadness, burnout, and countless other negative emotions. Hope focuses on the future and lets us know the present isn’t permanent. Below are ways hope helps us move through and overcome stress and anxiety. 

Prior to 2020, many of us focused on materialistic things we either had or wanted to have. We worked hard so we could purchase nice things for ourselves and loved ones. Shiny new things can help distract ourselves from whatever difficulty or challenge we’re experiencing at the moment. However, in 2020, materialistic items seemed to lose their shine, importance, and ability to distract. To put it simply, prior to 2020, material items served as a bandaid. When 2020 came, bandaids stopped being enough, we needed to actually heal and hold onto something more substantial. Research has shown that our society’s obsession with possessions and the social image they project are directly related to anxiety, stress, depression, and unhealthy interpersonal relationships. This year has made it abundantly clear that no amount of money or possessions can replace friends, family and loved ones. Getting rid of items that are unnecessary reduces stress and anxiety. It allows more energy to be put towards friends and activities, helps us to save money, reduces stress levels caused by an attachment to something materialistic, and most importantly, allows us to invest more energy into our perspective and behaviors. Removing material items can be painful (this may sound silly but it’s true!) but eliminating negative attachments in the present allows energy to be put towards hope for the future.

Hope requires a healthy sense of control and sense of self. It has been commonly thought that individuals with high self-esteem are more successful than individuals with low self-esteem. However, more recently it has been determined there is absolutely no correlation between success and self-esteem. So, why am I telling you this? Well, there IS a correlation between hopeful individuals and self-esteem. There are two types of self-esteem, toxic and healthy. Toxic self-esteem is all about victimhood. Individuals with toxic self-esteem are of the mindset that things are happening to them or are always someone else’s fault. Because of this, change is difficult because the individual feels they have no control over their circumstances. Healthy self-esteem deals with things we feel that we can control in our lives. Hopeful people rely on a strong sense of control to help overcome stress and anxiety. “Hope is derived from a clear understanding that, while we can’t control how much money we make, we do control how hard we work and how we develop skills to become a success.” Hopeful individuals don’t speak negatively to themselves when things go wrong. They’re able to maintain perspective and reflect on all that they have controlled that has been successful. Hopeful individuals take pride in their accomplishments and focus on what they can control instead of what they can’t.

While we are not control of many things in our lives, we are in control of how we respond to things. Experiencing stress and anxiety can cause us to shut down or can cause us to learn. Learning stems from figuring out how to grow and adapt to our circumstances. As a society we’ve labeled all negative emotions and experiences as “bad”. However, negative emotions are just as valid as positive emotions and a frequently present to teach us something. To help us grow. “Stress is not always a bad thing. Experiencing stress is simply the body’s response to changes that create demands on us.” It’s inevitable that we will have negative experiences in our lives. We can’t fully feel the good if we haven’t felt the bad. Hopeful individuals will learn and grow from these time periods, making them meaningful and purposeful. This mindset can make all the difference.

If you’ve found yourself struggling to feel hopeful or manage your stress levels, it may be useful to try counseling in Chicago. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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