Some years are more difficult than others.
We come to the end of the year grateful to see all the challenges behind us, and we begin to hope that a new year will help us see the light in all of the darkness.
We look for signs to let us know that everything will be okay in the end.
At times like these, many of us will commit to new resolutions or reexamine our priorities. When setbacks hit, it can be easy to lose our sense of hope.
I’ve been there. I’m sort of there right now. I feel like I’m barely hanging onto hope, and this year has been challenging for me. However hard it may be, though, we have to hold on to our hope transform our struggles into love.
We need to decide to survive and thrive regardless of the challenges that come our way. Here are a few ways to find hope in ourselves when we’re struggling:
1. Resolve to let love win. At the end of the day, there is so much of life that we cannot control. We can, however, control what we focus on and how we react to the situations in our lives. We can choose to love others, to react love and to find ways to use that loving spirit to create change. In my own life, I chose to give some of my unrequited love away by baking treats for local civic and service organizations. I could have chosen to sit in that suffering, but I chose instead to share and serve.
2. Reorder our lives with our priorities at the center. We have to figure out what our true priorities are, and then we need to make sure our actions are in line with them. For example, I work part-time because I value spending time with my children, who are not yet school age. To do this, I have to make some financial sacrifices and live simply. For me, the sacrifice is worth it.
3. Care for ourselves beyond food, clothing and shelter. If we take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’ll see that our needs include safety, a sense of love and belonging, self-esteem and even self-actualization. We can work on meeting these needs by building stronger relationships with our support system (our tribe), being body positive, and taking time to meditate and practice peace. Caring for ourselves makes it easier to care for others. It’s hard to make a positive impact when we’re run down and worn out.
4. Practice gratitude. Sure, this year has been difficult for me, but I’ve also learned so much and had so many good things happen. It can be easy to lose sight of that when I’m feeling sad about all I’ve had to overcome. I recover some of my hope through my gratitude practice.
5. Incorporate beauty into our lives on a daily basis. If we practice mindful living, this is simple. We can recognize beauty in the natural world around us or in a genuine smile. We can take time to enjoy art, music, dance and other creative outlets and remind ourselves that beauty exists in the world. On a difficult day, I go for a walk in nature or listen to an inspiring playlist.
6. Limit our negative impact on the world around us. This one can be tough when we’re discouraged! We can choose to be careful with our words, taking care not to harm others in the process of expressing our emotions. Sometimes I do this by choosing to ignore a negative post on social media rather than responding to it. Our small choices matter.
7. Ask for help. We are not islands. We are a community, and we need to reach out and ask for help when we need it. There’s no shame in this, and we need to destroy the stigma that asking for help is a weakness. Whether we seek the services of a counselor, life coach or other specialist, some areas of our lives are best worked through with guidance from a neutral third party trained to help. I often ask for help by reaching out to my tribe to let them know I’m struggling. They are always quick to provide support.
Just asking for help isn’t always enough; we need to be specific. But here’s the kicker: we don’t demand that someone meet our needs. If someone declines to assist us, we need to keep in mind that they may not have the physical, emotional or even financial resources to do it. No further explanation required. If we still need assistance, we can ask someone else, but we need to make sure that we have appreciation for those who support us and accept that support with a loving and grateful heart.
8. Reach out to help others. This has been an essential practice for me to instill hope in myself when I’m struggling. I can choose to volunteer my time or donate to a cause I support. Sometimes, it’s as simple as opening the door for someone else or giving a genuine compliment.
9. Accept our emotions and sit with them, but choose not to wallow. Sure, I may take a day or two to sit around in a bathrobe watching mindless TV and crying into my comfort food of choice. Eventually, though, I decide to participate in my own healing by getting up, showering, getting dressed and participating in my own life. We can sit around and complain about our problems—exhausting ourselves and draining everyone around us—or we can face challenges and find a way to keep rising above. If we’re going to choose the latter, we must choose not to wallow in our emotions for too long.
10. Be resolute. The path of change takes dedication and hard work. If we do have to upend our lives and create new ones, we can choose to make these lives extraordinary. We will have to commit to our change and keep moving forward, even when the emotions are overwhelming.
I’ve had days when I am tired of being vulnerable. Raw vulnerability and honesty in the dating world are often seen as intimidating or high maintenance, when in reality those of us who practice them are just looking to connect with someone who is real. I find it difficult to bring that level of vulnerability into a new interaction and then see it end, oftentimes abruptly and without explanation. Although I feel defeated and depleted by these interactions, I refuse to build walls out of fear. I’m resolute in my commitment to keep breaking down my own walls and building bridges to connect on a deeper level with others.
Life is hard. But it’s also breathtaking and filled with immense beauty. For every act of ugliness and hate we see, there are more signs of goodness and basic decency out there if we look for them.
When we reach the end of our rope, we have to make an effort to hold on. Help is coming. Sometimes we don’t know how or where, but we have to trust that help is on the way. In the words of Emily Dickinson,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
When we just want to give up, we should hold on—even when we can’t imagine good things coming our way. Good things are coming, so put a knot in the end of that rope and hang on. Choose to do what it takes to survive whatever dark challenge you’re facing.
Hang on, have faith and resolve to overcome it to rise stronger than ever.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Dyonisius Burton/ Flickr
Editor: Toby Israel