Finding Hope and Being Hopeful - Even in Stressful Times
When life is going smoothly and we're getting our needs met, it's easy to feel and be hopeful and optimistic. Hope, love, faith, optimism are all "easy" when life is "easy." The key is to find and sustain hope when life is presenting us with challenges, difficulties and obstacles. Where within yourself do find and access hope, when life is dishing out lemons? For that matter, what is hope? Webster defines hope as "wanting or wishing for something with confident expectation." To me, hope is about living with the anticipation of what can be, and someplace within you lies the belief that whatever it is you wish for or want, can be. To have hope is to have trust; trust in yourself that you are able to do what is necessary to "manifest" your hope; trust that the world will function according to your expectations and needs, and trust that what you hope for and want can, and will most likely, in fact, occur. So, what happens when life circumstances seem to conspire against your hope? How do you cope with life when times are difficult? What keeps you going when you don't feel hopeful at all? These are the questions that people have asked of me in recent weeks, and I will do my best to address these issues today.
Difficult times accentuate how much of life is out of our control and this can trigger many negative feelings within us. Human beings like to be in control and like the feelings that come with the belief that they are. The stark reality is, that very little of life is really within our control. As I have said (or written about) on various occasions: It's not so much controlling life, but controlling how we respond to life. When we are confronted with real-life issues that are overwhelming, scary, upending, etc. it's easy to lose sight of hope and optimism. It requires almost no effort or thought to feel yourself spiraling downward into fear and uncertainty and sometimes even despair. What do you do when you find yourself in this kind of situation? STOP! BREATHE! FOCUS! Slow yourself down. Allow yourself time to process what is happening, and what response will be for your greater good. The advent of a crisis tends to bring out the best in us; we rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. We feel focused and we work hard to get through the crisis. It's in the aftermath of the crisis that our negative feelings generally hit us full force. It's in the aftermath of the crises, during its resultant loss, heartache, stress, pressure, etc. we need to consciously look for hope, and connect to the truth that life is basically good and you can once again feel fulfilled. When most, if not all, the messages bombarding us from outside sources consistently deliver only messages that are fear-inducing, that's when it's most critical to focus on your own coping skills, and connect to where hope resides within you, and find what has helped you access it in the past.
What sustains you in times of difficulty and stress? What positive thoughts, activities, &/or behaviors have you taken for granted in easier times, that you now need to practice consciously and purposefully? Take a moment and think about this. Perhaps you pray, meditate, party with friends, go to a comedy club, exercise, work, etc. Even if you don't feel the same sense of serenity and hopefulness that you felt before, NOW, when you feel scared, overwhelmed, hopeless, PRACTICE these connections, rituals and affirmations because they can sustain you while you wait for the crisis, or its aftermath to fade. Hope does emerge, as life goes on. Hope is ever alive and vibrant, waiting to be accessed, touched, embraced. No matter how overwhelmed, stressed, sad, scared you may feel, hope still resides within you. Remember the story of Pandora's Box? After she let out all the pestilence, illness, heartache, devastation, negativity, etc. all that was left in the box once the lid was slammed shut was hope. Think about this for a moment. When we feel at our lowest, and the most empty, what's left inside, even if we don't connect to it right away? Hope! Remember the sayings: "hope springs eternal"; "where there's life, there's hope"; "The capacity for hope is one of the most significant facts of life-" Hope remains, patiently waiting for you to remember, that whatever is happening "has come to pass, it hasn't come to stay". As you allow yourself to breathe into your fear, don't run, don't hide, don't analyze, just breathe, slowly and deeply, and notice the shift that takes place within you. You'll find that as your breathing gets slower and deeper, your heart rate starts to regulate and your thoughts start to quiet down.
Here are the 5 important steps to take to stay connected to, or reconnect to, the hope that resides within you:
1. Be patient! At the times that you feel the most overwhelmed, scared, uncertain, etc., act less and rest more. Your body, mind and spirit need time to reconnect to hope and the positive feelings that come with it. You cannot rush this process. Feel your feelings, allow yourself to be aware of reality, and what your needs are in dealing with life. The only true rescue/bailout occurs when we rescue ourselves.
2. STOP! BREATHE! FOCUS! Deep breathing will connect you to the quietness within, where hope, faith, & optimism reside. Breathe through your fear, and remind yourself that you can cope! Say to yourself: "I trust in my abilities to cope!" (deep breath, and let that message flow through you. Repeat as needed as a reminder of your strength and capabilities ) If you practice this in good times (when you don't consciously need the reminders) it will feel more natural and you will feel more readily sustained by it during difficult times. Remember, everything that you have lived through up to now in you life, YOU have coped with. Today, and going forward, you get to consciously choose HOW you want to cope.
3. REACH OUT: When you feel down and without hope, is when you most need to reach out and stay connected. Though you may want to retreat and withdraw from friends and family, take a deep breath and make plans to get together and connect. These are the times we most need love and support. If this is challenging, or your support system is limited, reach out for a support group, counseling, (professional or pastoral) but Reach Out!
4. Life is about learning lessons. Look at the circumstances that are challenging you today, and ask yourself what life lesson(s) you can take from this. What are you learning about yourself in this situation? How does this lesson help you going forward more effectively in your life?
5. Practice your rituals: meditations, exercise, affirmations, writing in your gratitude journal, brain dumps, etc. Keep doing these things even when you don't want to, because they'll sustain you and help you maintain a steady course until you can reconnect to your own internal well-spring of hope. Sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other and getting through each day is enough to offer up the opportunity that you can, and do, not only survive, but you thrive.
Even in our darkest times we can have hope. Trust that it is within you and that you can and will be able to access it again.
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