Doctor, Doctor: The Hope Factor

Happy GirlWe all hope for something.

At least I HOPE you hope for something. The loss of hope is dangerous – of course mentally, but also physically. Hope is an especially powerful force for good in our health.

Science has been able to demonstrate the very real biologic effects of hope. Believing and expecting that something good can happen, for example, can block physical pain. With even a little bit of hope the brain releases endorphins and enkephalins – substances that act like morphine in eliminating pain and providing a sense of well-being. The pain lessens a little, which increases hope that the pain may lessen even more. It creates a positive cycle leading to healing.

Hope can also change the function of the autonomic nervous system, which controls many physical functions that we don’t usually think about, such as heart rate, gastrointestinal function, and our level of tension or relaxation. It can alter the chemical function of portions of the brain.

In The Anatomy of Hope Dr. Jerome Groopman shares the stories of a number of patients with serious illnesses, and shows the dramatic difference hope makes in whether one recovers or not. Hope is not something you can something you can manufacture, but when present it makes a very real difference in your physical body! It makes for very interesting reading!

Having hope does not mean ignoring reality with some type of Pollyanna complex. Hope means choosing to look at the challenges in front of us with clear eyes, move beyond the fear, and then focus on what we can change.

In the face of cancer, for example, hope does not mean denying the diagnosis. It means understanding everything possible about what is going on, and then grabbing hold of every available means of treatment (medical help, nutrition, prayer, etc.) to get the best chance of living past the cancer. For you, hope might mean acknowledging you are addicted to pornography, or in deep financial debt, or dangerously overweight, reaching out for help, and taking one small step, today, to get better.

Hope doesn’t come to all of us automatically. Some people naturally feel more hopeful than others when difficult challenges present themselves. But you DO have some significant choice in the matter.

Just think of the positive cycle you might generate if you choose to grab on to a piece of hope, and then another.

Your turn: What do you hope for? If you’ve lost hope, who can you find to give you a boost? What would help you increase the hope in your soul? I’d love to hear from you.

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