From Pandora's Box, hope was the last thing to go. We must hold onto ours - Karyn McCluskey

In his book Health, Stress and Coping, the American sociologist Aaron Antonovsky wrote about a sense of coherence - the capacity of people to respond to stressful situations. He suggested that, for wellbeing to flourish, we need three things.

Pandora and her box, from which hope was the last ill to leave. PIC: Creative Commons.
Pandora and her box, from which hope was the last ill to leave. PIC: Creative Commons.

Firstly we need our lives to be structured. We need predictability and to know what’s coming. Secondly we want our lives to be manageable and we can use the resources we have at our disposal to deal with what’s happening. Lastly we want our lives to be meaningful and to have a sense of hope. The absence of these three things would mean we would suffer chronic stress.

The ex-Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns, used this model to show how people brought up in chaos, without all the skills and resources to deal with it, and no sense or hope that this would change were more likely to suffer long term health conditions through a life of long term stress.

Yet all of us now are experiencing challenges to our sense of coherence. Our lives aren’t predictable anymore. We are wedded to news and radio signalling changes to our lives that impact us in a myriad of ways. Some of us are finding it easier to manage than others. But for many in poverty, for young people and a score of others - the resources they have at their disposal may be few. Lastly, that sense of hope - as this goes on no one can be criticised for struggling with finding meaning.

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So many of us are experiencing chronic stress. It’s affecting us in sometimes observable ways in relation to mental health, for others it’s sleeplessness, drinking more, relationship problems and so on. I see many people talking about relapses in drug taking and lives spiralling downwards.

Yet in this unpredictable world we now inhabit, there are lots of people striving to ensure that they make lives better and not worse. There are the next door neighbours who check in to see if you are ok, the work colleagues who drop a text or a WhatsApp message to do a check up from the neck up, the family or friends who make us laugh and are more important than ever.

I hear people say that they haven’t sought help or support because “everyone is going through this”. But levels of resilience differ and no one should feel less about themselves because they are responding in a different way to those around them. There are still services out there offering support, GPs who can help, wonderful recovery networks ready to support people to reduce the chaos of drugs and alcohol, and friends and colleagues who want you to reach out.

In Greek mythology when Pandora opened the box of ills to release them into the world - the last thing in the box was hope. Like all of you, I never want to hear about this pandemic again. I want to read about happier events, embrace normality and friends.

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We can’t lose hope. As we approach a new year I know things will get better and together we should make this possible for everyone.

-Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland

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