RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Lying in her hospital bed, Anita grasped the pen tightly in her left hand as her right arm hung limply at her side. “I am going to walk again,” she wrote. Three days after suffering a massive stroke, Anita was frightened and sad, yet determined. She learned from her neurologist that some of her function might come back on its own, but that much of it would depend on her own persistence and hard work over the next several months. Enthusiastic and hopeful by nature, she put her heart into the grueling work of physical and speech therapy. Over the next six months she regained her ability to walk, with a limp, to talk, slowly and with much effort, and to move her right arm again. Anita’s positive attitude was a vital part of her recovery. Like other resilient people, she was able to tap into an inner source of positive emotion and belief. Such thinking provides resilient people with a source of energy to vigorously confront the challenges they face. One word for that energy source is "hope."
Twenty-one years after finding hope that helped her recover from her stroke, at 80 years old, Anita continues to work relentlessly to maintain her abilities. She works out on a stationary bike for 60 minutes five days a week, attends Bible and history classes, reads voraciously, and plays mah-jongg with friends. She looks forward to each day with enthusiasm. I should know, because Anita is my mother.
THE DETAILS: Recent scientific research is discovering that Anita’s experience is far from unique. Finding hope and using it to fuel a positive attitude seems to be closely linked to persevering through a health crisis. In a study released just last week, a team of researchers at McGill University and the University of Toronto reported that stroke patients who were most apathetic had the lowest rates of recovery. This finding supports research published last year on 823 stroke patients at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. In that study, the stroke patients who expressed the highest levels of positive emotion recovered more fully than their more apathetic and pessimistic counterparts. When confronted with a massive challenge such as disability or a medical crisis, resilient people are not immune to feelings of anger, sadness, or grief. In fact, they often experience such painful feelings quite strongly. But they also possess a reservoir of hope and enthusiasm that energizes them to tackle the hard work of recovery.