“Hope is being able to see that there is more light despite all of the darkness.”—Desmond Tutu
Martha’s emotions were fried, wasted, washed up.
She felt that if she stayed one more day, hour, or minute in caring for her husband, she would wither and float away.
For Martha, this wasn’t everyday stress, but the anxiety to the extreme.
To quote Fiona Wood in Six Impossible Things, “It’s like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode.”
Martha felt like packing her bags, walking out, slamming the door behind her, and racing down the street without looking back.
But leaving was impossible. Martha’s husband was bedridden dependent on her for every little thing—even wiping his nose when he sneezed.
Thus, Martha seemed at the point to where she was sinking into severe depression.
She felt hopeless and trapped.
What could Martha do, short of seeking the advice of a mental health professional? After all, depression and despair could lead to all sorts of health issues up to and including suicide.
In this article, I will discuss seven ideas Martha can use immediately that will ease her anxiety and increase her sense of emotional well-being.
However, first, I would like to share a story that illustrates the benefits of hope and optimism, which is something Martha desperately needs.
Benefits of Hope and Optimism
Hope is more than mere desire and better than mere expectation. Hope is indispensable if you want to endure a difficult situation without giving up or sinking into a deep depression.
Hope is strengthening in that despite difficult circumstances, you wait patiently for the hoped-for thing.
In Martha’s case, she would hope for a positive diagnosis of her husband’s condition.
Would he get better?
But hope does not have to be passive. To sit and wait is the same as “wishing” that gets you nowhere. You must work. To hope means to have positive thoughts about your future and to be willing to take steps necessary to make it happen.
Hope in Action
I read a book by Jose Saramago titled Blindness, published in 1995. The book won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. Many consider this book Saramago’s dystopic vision, which means an imaginary place or society where everything is profoundly unhappy and miserable.
I’ve never read a more disturbing book. There’s mass blindness that pictures a loss of humanity.
Here is a brief plot summary as described on wikispaces.com:
Blindness tells the story of several individuals engulfed in a widespread epidemic of ‘white blindness,’ in which they only see bright white. The police quickly intern all the blind in an old mental hospital facility.
To stay with her now-blind husband, an ophthalmologist’s wife fakes her blindness into a new hell. A story of survival against an army of “liquidators and sacrifice ensues during which the last remaining seeing woman leads the internees to safety.”
So much happens to the characters in this book (the characters have no names, only descriptions). For instance, though helpless and interdependent, their behaviors are reduced to no more than animals.
The characters act worse than savages; they fight over food, commit rape, and murder. There is a total breakdown of what makes people human.
I’m not a literary scholar qualified to debate the themes and symbols of this book, but as a layperson, and one who enjoys reading good literature, I would describe Blindness as a book of horror!
As it turns out, “the doctor’s wife” never loses hope. In her compassion, she claws and scratches and schemes and even commits a murder herself.
In the end, when there seems to be no way out of “hell,” it is she, as the only person in the asylum not afflicted with blindness, that leads the group out of the asylum and helps them survive in the city.
The critical thought here is “hope.” No, hope isn’t passive; it’s a willingness to put into action steps to shape and invest in your future; it’s a positive outlook on your future.
However, the author Jose Saramago is an atheist Communist and believes religion is the cause of all humankind’s ills—including violence.
“Hope” means an expectation or desire for something to happen and as a possession of the Christian faith that hope is for everlasting life.
But as an atheist, did Saramago intend that one of his main characters should have hope?
Do atheists have hope?
We know that for many of the religious, hope gives peace of mind for what lies ahead. But atheists will say hope can be found apart from religion as there are many things to hope for: health, wellness, and happiness; for the power to make a better life for self and family, and so forth.
So even though, Saramago, as an atheist, would suggest no thought of religion or faith in a higher power, there’s no question in my mind that in his book Blindness, it is the “hope” that propels “the doctor’s wife” to take action—and win.
What Can Be Said About Optimism?
“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”—William James
Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full type of person?
Optimism means to be hopeful and confident about the future or your success in some endeavor—to expect a favorable outcome.
So, can optimism improve your health?
Most of us have to deal with the daily pressures of everyday life. These can lead to frustration, even panic. A pessimistic person sees defeat or a setback as permanent—also blaming herself for the situation. An optimistic person has hope and confidence in the future.
In a 30-year study of over 800 patients by the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.A. scientists found that optimists had better health and lived significantly longer than others.
The researchers also found that optimists coped better with stress, and therefore, less likely to develop depression.
Other benefits of optimism include:
- It promotes a sense of happiness and wellbeing
- It promotes self-confidence and boosts self-esteem
- It enables you to take action to change or improve situations
- It helps better feelings about money
- It allows you to bounce back quickly from any adversity
- It enables you to enjoy your work regardless of your job
- It promotes peace of mind in situations over which you have no control
However, being optimistic is not easy, especially in an environment where problems stack up for almost everyone. It’s tough to think positively.
Three Tips to Feel More Optimistic
- Focus deliberately on the positive when you find yourself thinking that you won’t enjoy something or you won’t succeed in some project. Consciously reject the thought (you “can” control your thinking; nobody can make you or force you to feel one way or another).
- Seek out those that view life positively (the glass half-full attitudes).
- Write down three good things that happened to you every day; always be grateful.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine.” –Proverbs 17:22
Seven Tips to Emotional Well-Being
- Reduce Stress. Here are four easy ways to reduce stress: 1) breathe deeply; 2) focus on the moment; 3) reframe your situation; 4) keep your problems in perspective.
- Meditate. You can find numerous how-to videos on YouTube, both long and short meditations, depending on how much time you have. Meditation gives you a quiet internal space, you need to be calm and peaceful, no matter your situation.
- Exercise. Try both aerobic (jogging, fast walking, tennis) and muscle toners that include calisthenics and therapeutic exercise. Exercise delivers oxygen to the body cells, improves blood circulation, and overall health. (Always check with your doctor first before engaging in any form of exercise activities.)
- Sleep. Better sleep = better health. Conversely, not getting enough sleep harms the body. Sleep is vital to your physical, social, and mental well-being. Lack of sleep can lead to forgetfulness, irritability, looking and feeling run-down, and depression. (See resources below.)
- Eat well. “Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts and interconnected.” –R. Colin Campbell. Vitamins and minerals have no calories. Food has all the vitamins and minerals you need. If your diet lacks a vitamin or mineral over a long period, you will develop a deficiency. (Speak with your doctor for diet and nutrition recommendations, including supplements.)
- Create positive emotions. Yes, you can choose how to feel. Here are seven ways to do so: 1) concentrate on positive things; 2) talk about positive things; 3) laugh; 4) seek the company of positive thinkers; 5) treat yourself compassionately; 6) focus on helping others; 7) forgive.
- Act the love. When caring for your spouse, one way to keep love alive is to call to mind his positive attributes: Was he a good provider? Was he kind towards others? Was he respectful? Was he generous in spirit? Considering questions such as these will help you to feel empathy for your loved one.
Finally, dear caregiver wife, you are performing a heroic work. It can be difficult.
You will, on occasion, have feelings of pain, fear, anxiety, overwhelm, and sadness.
Whatever your feelings are, you should acknowledge and honor them.
If your emotions are to the extreme, please seek professional help.
But I assure you that if you follow the ideas I’ve shared in this article, you will be emotionally healthy, have a positive attitude, and compassion for your loved one.
Your heart will overflow with joy, love, and happiness.
Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging (free). Call 1-800-222-2225
Fitness over Fifty: An Exercise Guide from the National Institute on Aging (Hatherleigh Press 2003)
The No Sweat Exercise Plan, written by Harvey Simon, a member of the Harvard Heart Letter editorial board, is published by McGraw Hill
Sleep quizzes: https://thesleepdoctor.com/sleep-quizzes
The Ultimate Guide to Better Sleep: https://kriscarr.com/blog/sleep-hygiene-guide/
Find more ideas in my new book:
A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions Find it on www.Amazon.com