Causes Of Stress: Hope

by Doc Orman, M.D.

This week, I’m highlighting three very common causes of human stress: 

  • Resignation
  • Hope
  • Blame 

In my previous post, I talked about resignation.  Today, I want to talk about the flip-side of resignation—hope. 

Whereas resignation is a form of negative thinking, hope is an example of positive thinking.  And as we saw that resignation is rarely justified, the same can be said for hope as well, at least in some situations. 

Hope And Expectations 

When we are resigned, we expect that nothing good can happen, no matter how hard we, or others, might try.  On the other hand, when we are hopeful, we do expect that good things will happen for us, often without our having to do anything to bring them about. 

While it is generally better to be hopeful and optimistic, rather than to be pessimistic and resigned, you can end up with just as much stress with either of these two opposing perspectives. 

If hope is followed by effective, problem-solving action, then all is well and good.   However, if all we do is hope and wish that our problems will improve, sometimes they do, but many times they don’t.  This is where hope—as a type of magical, wishful thinking—can’t get us into trouble. 


When hope is used as a coping strategy, it can become very seductive.  Why?  Because it allows us to avoid having to confront our problems directly, which can often  make us uncomfortable.  Instead, we can just let more time go by (without intervening), in the hope that our problems will either go away or improve, mostly on their own. 

One area where we tend to adopt this coping strategy is when we run into problems in our relationships.  Often, we don’t address these problems early enough when they first arise, because we fear that it will be too uncomfortable to do so, either for us or for the other person involved (or for both).  It’s usually much easier just to let more time go by, and simply hope that somehow our problem won’t get worse, or it will just disappear or improve on its own. 

Unfortunately, most of the time, this wait-and-hope strategy backfires, and the original relationship problem gets much worse.  Then, it’s even more difficult and uncomfortable to tackle, and the odds of successfully doing so are much reduced. 

But there are other types of problems where relying upon hope alone is not a very wise coping method.  For example, hope can make things worse if: 

  • You are having symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, and you just hope they will go away so you won’t have to go see your doctor;
  • Your business is starting to fail and you simply hope that the economy will soon begin to turn around;
  • You’ve worked very hard to lose weight, but you’re starting to regain it and you hope your motivation will return to its previous high level;
  • You lend a friend some money and you hope they will pay you back;
  • You hire someone to do a job for you, and you hope they are honest and competent. 

In these and many other examples, you could say that hoping is a pretty foolish and risky strategy.  That’s why I like to refer to it, when used this way, as hope-a-dope. 

NOTE:  This phrase is based upon Muhammad Ali’s famous rope-a-dope strategy, which he used in 1974 to defeat reigning heavyweight champion George Foreman in their first boxing match.  Ali, who was the underdog against his bigger, stronger, more dominating opponent, decided to hang against the ropes, covering his face with his arms and boxing gloves, and simply let George Foreman punch away at him without much response.  Foreman unwisely took the bait and punched himself into exhaustion, at which point Ali took the offensive and easily defeated him. 

So while being hopeful and optimistic may be a preferable way to go through one’s life, be on the lookout for when hope could get you into trouble (and thereby cause you stress), especially when you use it to avoid taking effective, problem-solving actions.



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