How Hope Can Help With Anxiety — Even During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Everything is uncertain right now, but here's why it helps to be hopeful.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 24, 2020

Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, people are feeling a lot of things right now, like frustration, anger, boredom, anxiety, and fear. In addition to toilet paper, hope is also something currently in short supply. All of the uncertainty about when the pandemic will be over, whether we’ll have enough supplies, and when we might get a treatment or vaccine, is making things rough on the general public, and wreaking absolute havoc on those already living with anxiety disorders (like me). It can be difficult to make it through the day, let alone be hopeful for the future. But as we’re scrambling to find mental health strategies for dealing with the coronavirus, it’s a good time to talk about how hope can help with anxiety. And research from the University of Houston indicates that hope can be a useful part of treating anxiety disorders — with or without a pandemic. 

In an article published in the journal Behavior Therapy, Dr. Matthew Gallagher, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Houston, discusses how hope can predict resilience and recovery for people living with anxiety disorders. Gallagher and his co-authors report that when people take part in psychotherapy, it can result in clear increases in hope. Not only that, they also found that changes in hope are associated with changes in anxiety symptoms. The study had 223 adult participants in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for common anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“In reviewing recovery during CBT among the diverse clinical presentations, hope was a common element and a strong predictor of recovery,” Gallagher said in a statement. He reports that moderate-to-large increases in hope were consistent across the five treatment protocols. Also, the researchers found that hope gradually increases during the course of CBT, and that the increases in hope were greater for those in active treatment.

“Our results can lead to a better understanding of how people are recovering and it’s something therapists can monitor,” Gallagher added. “If a therapist is working with a client who isn’t making progress, or is stuck in some way, hope might be an important mechanism to guide the patient forward toward recovery.”

Of course, just telling people to “hope more” — especially now, during the current coronavirus outbreak — is not the best strategy. But the next time you’re staring out your window in an anxiety spiral wondering when this will all be over, try to take a mental inventory of things you can be hopeful about and periodically remind yourself of them. If hope can help with anxiety, it can provide another tool for potential treatment.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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