Building Hope

Hope is a lovely word. Even when life is good, we still like the idea of hope, of ongoing good times and comfort.

We all have many hopes… 
… for less pain and stress
… for greater ease and comfort
… for good or better interactions with others, especially those dear to us
… for health and happiness for ourselves and loved ones
… for a better future

Hopes for wealth, fame, and power are also possible, but these are often harmful to physical and mental health.

Sometimes we have empty hopes – for things outside our control and not likely to happen, such as making someone love us who does not, or winning the lottery. The best way to deal with these hopes is to be grateful if they happen, and accepting if they don’t. Hopes for things that require effort we aren’t willing to make, or for unlikely outcomes no matter how much effort we make, are also empty and are best replaced by more realistic hopes.

Hope paired with gratitude for all that we have is the most beneficial form. It inspires us and keeps our mind on positive goals and willing to work. Enthusiasm for doing what is needed unleashes a powerful source of energy and focus. The difficulty, especially for people who hoard, is that people often feel beaten down by their struggles and can’t maintain enthusiasm in the face of these challenges. This leads to giving up and despairing of the possibility of hope. 

Life will always be full of many large and small events and conditions that will never be within our control; we can’t control…
… when a device breaks, although we can perhaps extend its life by doing whatever maintenance it needs
… many external events, but we can often anticipate them and institute preventive or protective measures
… health changes that happen despite all self-care actions but we can make the likelihood of illness as small as possible
… genetically determined impulses that well up and derail our peace of mind and sense of self-determination.

Meaningful hope is built by eliminating barriers to a better life by taking control over whatever is potentially within our control. In the midst of good times we are still subject to many perils and need to reduce as many risks as possible, including temptations and discouragement.

What interferes with the reality of hope? Our demons! Demons (our negative thoughts and emotions) keep us from enjoying life, making plans and anticipating difficulties, solving problems easily, being happy and content, or accomplishing all that we would like. Our demons cause us to feel depressed, discouraged, anxious, overwhelmed, and a host of other harmful states.

Our demons aren’t real – they exist only in our heads and have no more life or validity than we give them. When we listen to and believe what our demons tell us, we create vulnerabilities that distort our judgment, ability to make good decisions, and to even know what our best interests are. When we reject our demons nonsense, they lose the power to control our decisions, actions, and lives. And then we have a real basis for hope.

Let’s use taking back control from the anxiety demon as an example. I know this demon well from having spent nights clinging to the floor many years ago because I was chronically anxious and had panic attacks. I hated how that felt and was willing to go to any length to change it. Undermining the demons that created the attacks stopped them and, ultimately, ended the power of anxiety in my life.

Free-floating anxiety, i.e., not attached to any particular cause, is almost surely biochemically induced. Something in our body has gotten out of whack and our body uses one of the few tools it has to get us to pay attention and fix it.

So the first step is to FIX YOUR BIOCHEMISTRY. Many things reduce stress hormones and cause release of beneficial hormones:

I do not know the right technique for altering biochemistry for any given individual, but strongly believe that it will be some combination of the above and other beneficial practices. Although these practices work for free-floating anxiety, they also help reduce specific anxieties and nearly any negative state of being.
Sometimes anxiety is not free-floating but is tied to specific concerns. These are often exaggerated, but assuming that they have some real basis, then the most effective strategy is to confront them – study the anxiety to assess how much is realistic, how much is something you could change, and how much of it signals that it is time to make a life change, such as changing a job, home, or relationship.

Anxiety caused by feeling unable to stop a negative habit can often be best handled by focusing on constructive actions rather than directly resisting the demon. For example, instead of feeling badly over harmful eating habits, make a delicious, healthy meal and feel good about it; rather than feeling badly about yourself for acquiring, go to a movie or the beach rather than garage sales.

The most common specific anxiety is over incomplete tasks, so starting on them can improve emotional status quickly. Laying out the full ramifications of a problem and starting on any bits that can be worked on right away provides reassurance that the task or problem can be managed. Chipping away at a major project is a highly effective strategy.  

Anxiety-prevention techniques were invaluable when I was working and specialized in doing “impossible” projects, but recently, when my move suddenly went from having two weeks to prepare to only three days (!), they kept me calm and functioning, and the bit-by-bit approach ensured steady progress. Had I freaked out, keeping preparations moving along would have been impossible.

Other demons have similar causes and solutions. Demons have the most power when we let them linger in our minds without challenging the nonsense that they tell us.

Everyone deserves hope and a better life. We can build both by forcing our demons to stop running and ruining our lives.


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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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