Hope is healthy | Sunday Observer

Hope is healthy

10 January, 2021

All of us have hopes. Sometimes elders advise us not to have too many hopes because we may not be able to realise them. However, a recent psychological research has found that hope is something healthy. Researchers say it is good to expect the best and deny the worst. For instance, if you are going for an interview, have positive hopes that you will be selected. It is the same attitude you should adopt when you sit an examination.

If you are going to a hospital for a routine surgical procedure, always tell yourself that everything is going to be fine. Some people get highly excited thinking that doctors will find something wrong with them. A friend of mine who routinely goes for medical checkups thinks that he has some hidden diseases.

Very often doctors diagnose them and subject him to various tests. Although he is physically strong, he thinks that he is suffering from many diseases. He never had hopes for good health. Finally, he was diagnosed with cancer.

When you think that you are going to be fine, psychologists call it “denial” which is a defence mechanism that minimises uncomfortable information. Sometimes denial can be self-defeating and dangerous.

For instance, when a medical test reveals you have some problem in your heart or kidneys, it is dangerous to think that you have no such disease. However, denial of a certain sort and at certain times can be healthy. You need to face some unpleasant facts.

The trick is to know when it is helpful to worry and when it is counterproductive.

Mental strategies

When patients have to undergo an operation, they can adopt one of two mental strategies. They can either adopt avoidance or vigilance. Those who adopt avoidance do not discuss their surgery in detail with anyone as they do not wish to know anything about them. In other words, they do not want to dwell upon its risk factors.

Those who adopt vigilance remain alert to every detail. Before the surgery, they read articles written about their disorder.

For instance, before my cataract surgery, I read many articles written on it to assure myself that it is not a risky form of surgery. Luckily some newspapers and magazines publish such articles written by doctors. I feel that it is always good to know something about the surgery beforehand. However, most patients go for surgery without any prior knowledge of it.

Richard S. Lazarus, Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkley and Cohen studied 61 patients about to undergo operations for hernia, gall bladder and thyroid conditions. They were relatively common operations. They found that the first group – avoiders – fared better than the other group. They had a lower incidence of post-operative complications, such as nausea, headache, fever and infection. They were discharged earlier than the other group. The research showed that denial made room for hope and they had a positive outlook. However, Norman Cousins, author of “Anatomy of an Illness” and “The Healing Heart’ advises us never to deny the diagnosis, but to deny the negative verdict that may go with it.


Some patients worry too much about their diseases and the surgery. Those who are not frightened about the surgery usually minimise the seriousness of their illnesses. According to Dr Thomas P. Hackett, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, deniers tend to do better than those who fear and worry about the operation. However, most patients are worried about the machines they are hooked up to and the operation.

Researchers do not advise patients to be deniers in all medical matters. For instance, if you are a diabetic, you have to monitor your blood sugar. Similarly, a kidney patient will have to keep track of dialysis. What is more, a woman who feels a lump in her breast should have it diagnosed without delay.

The problem is whether the information you gather about a medical condition prior to an operation is going to help your problem. What you read about a disease may not change the risks involved in an operation. However, it does not mean that you have to be preoccupied with possible risks. If you worry too much, your anxiety can worsen the situation.

Temple University psychologist Suzanne Miller says different patients react to news about their situation in different ways. Some patients seek more information and others seek less. Some doctors believe that they should not tell everything to their patients because they do not really want to know. However, in modern times patients have a right to know what is going to happen.


Today, most physicians and surgeons know how to handle the situation. They do not describe the entire procedure of the operation, but they tell their patients things they should know. If you have a medical condition and the doctor asks you to undergo an operation, there is nothing you can do about it except consulting another doctor to get a second opinion.

Now we are facing the Coronavirus. Nobody is immune to it. However, most people go about their business as if there is no Coronavirus in the country. This is one more countless medical situations in which we have no control. But we depend on hope. We take all the precautions not to get infected by the virus. We wear facemasks, wash our hands, do not get close to other people and reinforce our immunity system. Although many Covid-19 patients are found in many parts of the country, the death rate is relatively low when compared with other countries. Most of the victims had been suffering from other medical conditions. Even if you get infected, do not lose hope of recovery. Such a mature hope dwelling on the positive aspect of life increases a person’s chances for survival.

Long-term hope

Serious and long-term hope leads to positive psychological and physiological changes and improves the body’s resistance. Hope strongly affects two hormones – cortisol and prolactin. There seems to be a close connection between the immune system and neurochemicals. This may be why we fall ill when we are under stress. And we resist illness when we are in good spirits.

If you happen to be trapped in a mine, hope is the only thing you can cling on to. Hope goes hand in hand with faith. Those who are faithful to their religions, gods and doctrines seem to do better in a time of crisis. If you find yourself in a stressful situation, you can hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

If you lose hope and faith, you lose everything in life. We find ourselves in a helpless situation today with the Coronavirus. The best way to cope with the present situation is to find out how to live with it. Life has to go on despite diseases and disasters. We are fighting an invisible enemy, but with hope and faith, we can win the battle.

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