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Episode 239: Hope


And hello to you! And welcome to the Richard Nicholls Podcast, the personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate and motivate you to be The best you can be! I'm Psychotherapist Richard Nicholls, and this episode is titled Hope. And if you're ready, we'll start the show! Alright, folks!

How have you been? I've been proper busy. Me and Fiona Biddle, we're getting our head around the next season of Therapy Natters, which is nice. We'll start making those episodes soon, I reckon. Do get in touch if you've got any questions or topics that you'd like us to talk about, by the way. You can even send us an anonymous text message.

There's a link in the show notes of every episode, both on Therapy Natters and on my podcast on this one as well. Or you can fill in the submission form on the website, TherapyNatters. com. Link is in the show notes of every episode if you use the podcast app. I've been quite busy and if you watch me on YouTube you'll see I'm in a different room now because I've moved house.

So the last month has been all over the place and usually I know a month in advance what each public episode is going to be about. But literally until last week, I wasn't quite sure what I was going to record today. But I was prompted to talk about hope when I got a message from a listener on Twitter.

Still calling it Twitter. Sorry, Elon. That's not changing anytime soon because I'm a grumpy old man. Last week, my Monday morning motivational quote thing was, There's no point in being a pessimist. It wouldn't work anyway. Bit of a joke for you there. Not a particularly funny joke, but a joke nonetheless.

And someone on Instagram sent me a message that said, There's no point being a pessimist? You should tell that to Gareth Southgate. Which was funnier than my original joke, so thanks for that. But the Twitter one said something along the lines of, Not so easy to be an optimist at the minute though, is it?

Not when everybody hates each other and the world is on fire. Which kind of brought me down a bit, because it's not a nice thought. I mean, it's true, but I trust the human race to pull together and fix any problems. And I don't know if that's optimism or hope. To me, optimism is a belief, but hope is a feeling.

I guess you can feel optimistic too, just as you can think hopefully. And that's just language, I suppose, but whatever you call it, it's important.

Hope is often described as the light at the end of the tunnel. That feeling that no matter how dark things may seem, there's a brighter future ahead. And it sounds nice to have, but when it comes to mental health Hope isn't just a nice to have thing, it's an absolutely critical component of well being.

If you're struggling with mental health challenges, it can feel like you're stuck in a never ending cycle of darkness. Depression, anxiety, rejection sensitivity, personality disorders, and all the mental health issues that strip away our ability to see beyond the present moment. And that's where hope comes in.

Hope is the fuel that keeps you moving forwards, even when the path isn't clear. It's the feeling and the belief that things can and will get better. And it gives you the strength to take the necessary steps toward recovery from whatever's going on for you.

Research has shown that hope can significantly improve mental health outcomes.

It boosts resilience, helps you to cope better with stress and setbacks, and importantly, with hope, you're more likely to engage in positive behaviours that support your well being, like finding a therapist, connecting to other people, practising self care. But hope isn't something that just happens. It's something you might need to cultivate and it could save your life.

How many times do you hear of people talking about an old couple who both died at around the same time as each other? And I know that old people are more likely to die within a year of each other than younger couples, of course, because old people are more likely to die than young people. That's one of those correlation does not imply causation moments, isn't it?

But sometimes it's really close. Significantly close. Like the next day close that somebody dies. Sometimes when people feel like life is not worth living anymore, their body does give up on them. Even though that hopeless feeling is created by their mind. But actually it works the other way around too.

As you probably know, I'm a big fan of hypnotic language. Using words to help inspire, motivate, etc. And one of the very early people to formally do this was called Mesmer. Franz Anton Mesmer, which is where we get the word to be mesmerised from. Now, he didn't know that it was his charisma or the expectation of the people taking part that was having these positive effects.

He called it animal magnetism and he thought it was all about magnetising the bodily fluids to heal people. But it wasn't. It was just because he was quite flamboyant. He would create dramatic scenarios and eerie music and create a kind of tension, an expectation that something's gonna happen. And it was that that was getting people better.

Because they did! Warts would drop off, pain would be relieved, hysterical people would calm down. His procedures helped. But not because of magnetic fluid, it was expectation. After Mesmer was criticised by the medical community, he insisted on a controlled trial to be set up to prove that animal magnetism was real, which was obviously his downfall because whether they used real magnets or not, People still had the same level of success.

Benjamin Franklin, who contributed to the design of the study, I think, certainly was part of the commission to investigate it. And he wrote the final report and he said, Hope is an essential constituent of human life. He said that it was hope that was helping people and nothing else. So Mesmer's work was completely discredited, as was Mesmer himself.

And it was decades before anybody looked at that sort of work in any serious way again. And nowadays we do know that people can die of a broken heart. Broken heart syndrome is a real thing. Cardiologists have been investigating it for years and show the same thing that other studies into the link with despondency and death do.

Because, a bit grim, but there are far too many cases of parents whose children die who then end up dying of heart attack themselves within a year or so. And this is something we'd like to prevent, obviously. Because the same thing happens when you look at the statistics of people diagnosed with cancer.

They significantly increase their chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. Plus there was a link with the severity of the cancer. The more serious the diagnosis, the more likely it was that they'd have a heart attack. And again, this is our mind doing this to our heart. But is the opposite the case?

If it works one way, does it work the other? Does being hopeful, rather than hopeless, help us to get through the dark times? Turns out yes. There was a study that went on through the early days of the Covid pandemic with medical staff that showed that being able to remain hopeful had a real benefit on their stress levels, on their anxiety, depression and quality of sleep.

And when I read that I was reminded of some rather sad experiments with rats. It's always rats. This was quite a famous study in the 50s by a biologist called Curt Richter. He wrote a paper called, On the Phenomenon of Sudden Death in Animals and Man. And this was, this was quite nasty actually. What he did was he got domesticated rats and wild rats and he put them into jars that were half filled with water.

To time how long it took them before they gave up treading water and just embraced the drowning that they knew was coming, gave up and died. And he started with domesticated rats. He had 12. And three of them, after a few minutes of treading water, swimming at the top, they would dive down to the bottom and they'd press their nose against the glass for a little bit before they just closed their eyes and accepted their fate. But nine of them, they literally just carried on swimming for days. Days! 50 hours, on average, treading water. Then came the wild rats, famous for their swimming abilities. They'd been recently caught. There were 34 of them, and they were fierce and aggressive rats. Well, let's see how long these rats would hold on for.

They didn't. One by one, he dropped these wild rats into the water. Within two minutes, every single one just sank and drowned. Why? When we know that actually they have the ability to stay above water for days. Hope. Richter proposed that the reason a huge majority of the domesticated rats would keep on swimming was because they expected rescue.

They had a sense, a feeling that their torment was going to end and that they'd get through it alive. So they kept on swimming. They had, hope. Well, to see if this was the case, he needed to do the experiment again. But this time create some hopefulness. Make some positive expectation. So he got a load more wild rats again.

Dropped them into the water in exactly the same way. Knowing that after two minutes they'd very likely give up and drown. So after about 90 seconds or so, he'd rescue them and he'd hold them for a little while before putting them back into the water and starting the timer again. And doing this meant the rats kept on swimming.

All of them held out far, far, far longer. Literally days longer than the rats that didn't know that a reprieve existed. When the rats learned that they might not be doomed, that the situation might not be lost, that there might be a helping hand at the ready, when they had a reason to keep swimming, they did.

They did not give up. After elimination of hopefulness, Richter wrote, the rats do not die. Now, I know we're not rats, but we share a lot in common. And one thing in particular is that sometimes we need to keep on swimming. They did these tests quite a few times, measuring their heart rate, even removing their adrenal glands to see if it was adrenaline that was killing them off.

And it wasn't. Even when their heart rate was slow, and they weren't producing adrenaline, they still felt hopeless. So it wasn't anxiety, stress, fight or flight that was killing them, which is good news, otherwise excitement would kill us all off as well. It was the sense of hopelessness that did that.

Even though they could have carried on. Richter was interested in this because he'd come across stories of what's called voodoo death. A mysterious, sudden, apparently psychogenic death from all parts of the world. Where people would just literally die. Like the case of the young man who unknowingly ate the forbidden chicken.

The forbidden wild chicken. He ate it without realising. And on discovery of his crime. He trembles, he's overcome by fear, and he dies within 24 hours. Nothing to do with the chicken at all, it was him. He killed himself without realising it. And there have been so many other cases of people being cursed and so on.

And their belief kills them. In his summary of the study, Richter said a phenomenon of sudden death has been described that occurs in man, rats and many other animals, apparently as a result of hopelessness. And he was right. Because since then we've seen it in sheep, in shrews, in pigeons, in rabbits, and even in people. Sudden death can occur when we lose hope.

When we believe the feelings inside of us that tells us that there's no point in trying to keep your head above water, when we believe it, when we accept those feelings as true, it pulls us under. So don't believe them. Accept that those feelings exist, but don't trust them. Keep your hope. We die inside when we lose it.

Like the old phrase of Henry Ford, Whether you believe you can or you believe you can't, you're right. Because if you don't believe you are capable, then you aren't capable. If you do believe you're capable, then anything is possible. When those hopeless feelings become a hopeless narrative, and negative voices, if you believe them, if you believe the negative voices that are both within and maybe around you, that are telling you that there's no point in trying, that you can't succeed, then you can't.

But if you ignore those voices, If you grow the hope that is inside you, and believe you can, then it's only a matter of time until you do. Because you have control. There is no voodoo curse that destroys you. Just as inspirational people aren't the ones that pull us up. All of it is down to us. We do that to ourselves.

We drag ourselves down and we pull ourselves up. If the absence of hope can cause people's hearts to simply stop, but the presence of hope can cause exhausted rats to swim for two days rather than two minutes, how different can our lives be when we start believing in ourselves? When we can put aside those negative voices in our head, and helpless feelings in our system.

When we can increase our faith in ourselves. We can achieve whatever it is we wish to achieve. If ever you're so low you think you're drowning, always remember that it's temporary. That this too shall pass. Never forget what you're capable of. Never forget why you're here. Never forget the power of your beliefs and never, ever lose hope.

Now I'd best be off. As always, I'll be back next month and there's my little bonus episodes on Fridays to keep you topped up. Of course, if you'd like a bit extra, hop onto my Patreon page where there's even more and I'll speak to you again very soon, folks. Have a lovely month. Take care.