10 Strategies for How to Find Hope in Hard Times

We live in troubled times, and often it’s hard to find hope. We struggle with a national dialogue on institutional racism and the “take a knee” protests in professional sports following the August riots in Charlottesville. Three hurricanes have devastated Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico as well as large parts of the Caribbean. Wildfires damaged or destroyed more than 15,000 homes and businesses in California, killing more than 40 people.

Income inequality and economic uncertainty affect most Americans. Nuclear war with North Korea looks like a possibility. And, we have our own personal challenges—breakups, divorce, arguments, parenting, eldercare, illness, accidents, job loss, addiction, abuse, financial stress, to name a few.

Shared conversations with family, friends, and colleagues center on how difficult it is to manage the uncertainty, confusion, fear, and pain.

At 55 years of age, I’ve survived myriad hard times—the end of a 19-year marriage with two kids involved, a cancer scare, the loss of my second husband three months into our marriage, and three downsizings in eight years.

I’ve lived in three countries, seven states, and 20 cities. I felt the plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11. And, yet, somehow, I have remained optimistic about my life and the future. So, I decided to start this blog by sharing my personal strategies to find hope in hard times.

How to Find Hope When Things Seem Hopeless

When so many things go wrong in life, it’s easy to feel that life is hopeless. We feel trapped in an endless downward spiral and we lose faith that life will get better. If you look at the cycles of history, our challenges are nothing new. Shifting your mindset around finding hope will reverse your negative mindset for life and open you to new possibilities.

Step #1: Accept that hard times are normal. We create a lot of anguish for ourselves when we insist that adversity isn’t normal. Natural disasters, illness, death, and warfare have been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. We may not enjoy troubled times, but they are normal.

When we cling to the notion that things “should” be a certain way, we drain our positive energies into resisting what exists. Often, we resist things we cannot change, like natural disasters. Having empathy for the pain of others is important. But, feeling anger and resentment takes away energy we might otherwise spend helping those in need.

When we stay trapped in cycles of resentment over what “ought to be” and resignation that change is possible, we give up the potential for acceptance, hope, and peace. We give up the possibility of finding happiness.

Step #2: Verify what’s real. Many times, fear takes over our rational mind. We conjure up visions of the worst possible scenario. But, these outcomes are not likely to happen. We lose hope because of things we imagine, not things that are real.

We lose perspective. We make mountains out of molehills. We forget to ask ourselves if what we are afraid of will matter in a week, a year, or a decade.

When we lose hope in hard times, we allow our doubts to cause unnecessary stress and feelings of overwhelming. We may become depressed, which can cause us to overeat, abuse alcohol, withdraw from family and friends, or become addicted to prescription drugs.

When we get caught in a cycle of escalating fears, we forget what’s real. Our energy goes into building and managing fear instead of taking meaningful action. We give up the potential for creating a plan and taking steps to change what we can change. We give up the possibility of finding peace and joy.

How to Find Peace of Mind in Hard Times

Once we’ve reconnected with hope, we can work to find peace of mind in the face of challenge. We are not helpless victims in the face of adversity. We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We forget that adversity helps us grow.

Step #3: Make friends with adversity. Unless you are very young, the challenges you face today are not the first time you have confronted hard times. Overcoming hardship has made you who you are today. You have learned and grown from these experiences. You have built resilience with each struggle you have mastered.

Look back on the challenges you have weathered. What lessons have you learned? How have those lessons made you a better person today? What might you learn from the challenges you face today?

Often hard times force us to explore new possibilities and to make different choices. What seems like a cloud may, in fact, hide a silver lining. How might today’s troubled times lead to something positive? Where is there fortune in misfortune? How might you arrive at a new normal where you are happier and more energized than you thought possible?

Step #4: Set healthy boundaries. Byron Katie has an excellent book called Loving What Is. The first question of her process is to ask yourself, “What is my business? What is someone else’s business? What is God’s business?” Many times, we lose hope and destroy our own peace of mind by “getting in other people’s business.”

Having compassion for the trauma and pain of others makes us good human beings. But, carrying someone else’s pain serves no purpose. We rob ourselves of the ability to help others, or ourselves. We put our attention into feeling secondary trauma rather than doing what we need to do in our own lives.

Setting healthy boundaries in hard times means carrying only your own true burdens, and letting others carry their burdens. It means looking at where you can let go of anxiety and stress. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu reminds us, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

Step #5: Look to your strengths. When hard times hit, it’s normal to go through a phase of shock, numbness, and paralysis. But, often, we get stuck in the initial stage of trauma and we forget that we are not powerless victims.

We forget that, ultimately, we have the power to control how we view the world. We can retake our personal power and stand our ground in the face of hard times. We forget that we have persevered before.

Think about your past and take an inventory of the times you overcame hardship. What strengths carried you through these challenges? What strengths came out of facing adversity? How can you deploy those strengths today, as you face new challenges or revisit old ones?

Creating Emotional Resilience

Facing hard times and overcoming adversity makes us stronger. It’s like working out for your emotional health. It builds our resilience for future challenges. It’s one of the benefits of surviving hard times. The more resilient we are, the less likely we are to get stuck, the easier future challenges are to manage, and the less time it takes to get unstuck.

Step #6: Be present. Being present is about resolving depression rooted in the past and taming anxiety projected into the future. When we live in the present, we increase the likelihood that we will live with peace, hope, and happiness.

When we feel sad, it is about things that have already happened. And, none of us can go back to change the past. We need to make peace with the past. We need to forgive ourselves and others for what has happened, what was said or not said, what was done or left undone. When we are at peace with the past, we are no longer trapped grieving for the past.

When we feel anxious or afraid, we are living in the future. Ultimately, we cannot control the future and there is rarely a guarantee that the future will play out like we fear. Identifying where we can make a difference frees us from anxiety about the future.

Once we recognize what we can control, we can create and implement an action plan. Perhaps the steps are small, but the adage about the journey of 1,000 miles beginning with a single step is never more relevant than when we are working to find hope in hard times.

Step #7: Be proactive. Often troubled times numb our emotions and seduce us into a trance of using alcohol or drugs, binge watching TV, or oversleeping. We create powerful stories about our powerlessness. We let go of goals and dreams because we convince ourselves they are not achievable in the face of adversity.

Being proactive builds confidence and our self-efficacy, the belief that we can accomplish our goals. Take your goals one by one. Identify any perceived barriers to taking action and get creative about where you can find ways to overcome obstacles. Break big goals into small steps that are manageable in the face of adversity. And, never, never, never give up.

Step #8: Practice radical self-care. The tougher the times, the more important it is to take care of our bodies and our emotions. Encouraging unnecessary accidents, illness, disease, and disability only makes hard times harder.

When times are tough, we often rationalize that we don’t have the time or the money for self-care. We prioritize the needs of others over our own needs. We convince ourselves that we cannot ask for help or support. As hardship increases, we may be in denial and refuse to allow ourselves to say “no” or “not now” to things that push challenge into overwhelm. We let life get out of balance.

When you face hard times, it’s very important to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and avoid excessive use of alcohol or prescription medications. At a minimum, you should make time to do something that recharges your battery for 15 minutes every day, one hour every week, one morning or afternoon every month, and one full day every quarter.

If you’re having trouble finding hope and peace for more than a month or two, it may be time to visit your doctor for a thorough physical.

You Can Have a Happy Life Even When Hard Times Hit

Step #9: Engage with others. When hard times hit, people tend to do one of three things—seek out support from others, push people away, or shut down. Seeking support from friends, family, and colleagues is a healthy thing to do. When we push people away, they may take it personally, rather than understanding that we are acting from fear or pain. We may actually damage or destroy relationships at the time we need them the most.

When we shut down, we may make people feel unwelcome in our lives. They begin to avoid us in response to our avoiding them, creating a self-sustaining cycle where we feel unwanted, unsupported, and unloved.

There is strength in numbers, but they must be the right numbers. The extra stress of hard times requires being more discerning about who and what you let into your life. Are there family members, friends, or colleagues who tear you down?

It may be necessary to set healthy boundaries, spend less time with them, or even invite them out of your life. This isn’t mean or unfriendly. It’s a way of keeping your energy spiraling upward so that you can live a happy, productive, meaningful life where you express your gifts and make a difference in the world.

Hard times are also opportunities to practice random acts of kindness. Always choose kindness, no matter how the other person shows up. Research shows generosity and acts of service increase our happiness by 17%. In other words, kindness and altruism benefit us as much as the other person.

Step #10: Practice gratitude and optimism. It’s easy to feel like nothing makes a difference in the face of hard times. Small steps can be so small that you don’t notice you have moved at all unless you look backward. It’s critical to believe and have faith that the small steps make a difference. Look to your past for times when it felt like the world was falling apart, and yet you made progress. Make time to look at what is going well and to notice where you have made progress. Remember, the power of an atomic bomb begins with the splitting of a single atom.

As you notice all the things that have gone well, practice gratitude. When you feel discouraged or pessimistic, name seven things that have gone well. The more you focus on what is going well, the stronger the energy of your upward spiral and the more resilient you will be when facing adversity. The more resilient and optimistic you are, the more likely you are to live a happy life.

Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Choose one of these strategies for how to find hope in hard times. Choose one action you can take today to make a difference in how you can find hope, peace, and happiness. Add another step tomorrow and a third step the following day. Practice for a week or two, until that practice has become a part of your daily life. Then begin to work on another strategy.

Make sure you take time to notice how you are reversing any negative energy into an upward spiral of hope and optimism. If you miss a day, just pick up where you left off. Every day is the first day of the rest of your life. The magic is in not giving up.

And, remember you are not in this alone.

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