Finding Hope in Challenging Times

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This week, wild roses are blooming in my back yard. Unlike hybrid tea roses, these roses bloom only once a year. And this year, their bright blossoms are all the more precious.

Like the wild rose, life brings us surprises, some welcome, some not. For the past few weeks, people all over the world have been suffering from fear and uncertainty, experiencing the challenge of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Schools, workplaces, restaurants, theatres, and local shops have closed, familiar routines have been disrupted by lockdowns and social distancing, and each day’s news brings frightening statistics as we worry about how to stay safe. The virus has brought suffering, loss, and mental challenges as lockdowns and closures have narrowed our lives.

Cut off from our normal routines, family and friends, there is so much we cannot do. Yet although we cannot go out as we used to, what we can do is go within. We can take the time to reflect, get to know ourselves on a deeper level, and live from a more centered space. Here are five simple practices to help you find greater hope and peace of mind.

1. Practicing Nonviolent Communication. We can find greater peace of mind by applying psychologist Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication (2005) to ourselves.  To begin this practice:

  • Pause and take a slow mindful breath, then slowly exhale.
  • Ask yourself, “How do I feel?”—“Am I calm, relaxed, anxious, confused, worried, tired, hurt, disappointed, sad, lonely, excited, happy”—or something else?
  •  Whatever you feel, just recognize and label the feeling without judging yourself.
  • Then ask yourself, “What do I need?”  Our needs can range from food, rest, and security to emotional needs for love, acceptance, understanding, joy, play, creativity, inspiration, and meaning. What do you need right now?

2. Moving Forward with Hope.

  • Now set a goal to meet the need you identified to begin cultivating greater hope.
  • Write down your goal and when you hope to achieve it.
  • Think of three steps you can take to reach your goal.
  • Think of three obstacles or roadblocks that might occur.
  • Come up with a backup plan to deal with each obstacle.
  • Now take a moment to close your eyes and visualize yourself taking each step, confronting each obstacle, and using each backup step.
  • Smile as you visualize yourself reaching your goal, becoming aware of how you feel.
  • Now take the first step and tell yourself, “I can do this” (Feldman & Dreher, 2012)

3.  Practicing Self-Compassion. Whenever you’re feeling stressed or anxious, instead of spiraling into worry and self-criticism, you can find greater peace of mind with this simple practice:

  • Put your hand on your heart.
  • Recognize how you’re feeling and label the feeling.
  • Then treat yourself with compassion as you would a dear friend.
  • Reassure yourself with words like “Poor dear, I know you’re scared and worried (or whatever you’re feeling). I love you. I’m here for you. You’re not alone.” (Neff, 2003; 2004; Shapiro, 2020)

4. Finding Greater Peace with Gratitude. Spend a little time at the end of each day to count your blessings, to focus on what you’re grateful for. Research has shown that this practice can improve your physical and emotional health (Emmons, 2008; Hill et al, 2013; Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian, 2016).

  • At the end of each day, think of three things you’re thankful for. You may choose to record these reflections in a journal.
  • Pause for a moment in the midst of the day to focus on something you’re grateful for. For example, you might smile at someone you love, enjoy the playful antics of a puppy, or appreciate nature’s artistry in  the songs of birds, the beauty of a Spring sunset, or the fragrance of roses in your garden (Emmons, 2008; Carroll, 2017).

5. Sharing Compassion. Even with social distancing, there are still ways to reach out to friends,

Diane Dreher photo

family, and the larger community in your heart and your actions. You might:

  • Connect by phone with a friend, neighbor, or family member. Ask how they’re feeling and what they need. Even if you cannot offer them what they need, knowing that you care will make a positive difference to them.
  • Express compassion and gratitude to frontline health care workers and essential employees. Smile and thank them when you see them at work and send them gratitude when you think of them. You might choose to make a sign, send a card, or join your neighbors in collecting masks for essential workers.
  • Just reaching out with care and compassion can help you and the other person feel better. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found that micro-moments of connectivity can bring both the giver and receiver greater emotional and physical health (Fredrickson, 2000; Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002; Fredrickson, 2013).

In this time of challenge and change, may new hope blossom in your heart like the wild rose.

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