I received a wonderful question from a reader recently.
She asked me:
“How do you remain hopeful even during times of immense stress?”
This is such a good question and one that I thought about for many days.
Here is the list I came up with of real-life strategies that I use personally and that I find work well for others during times of crisis and stress.
To remain hopeful really seems to be the key during any type of adversary in life, whether that be a personal tragedy, a health crisis or a series of financial stressors (or all three, as they often travel together.)
Hope, as I blog about here, is a very very powerful thing.
The problem is, just when you need hope most is just when your life is crashing in all around you.
It’s much easier to remain positive and have positive expectations during times of relative peace and happiness in life.
It’s damn hard to have a consistent basis of hope when an unexpected life change, diagnosis, or traumatic incident shakes your very foundation.
But you can do it.
Here are 8 actions can you take today to increase your sense of hope and optimize your health even on the most stressful day of your life:
1. Reconnect with nature.
All you have to do here is walk out your front door, step out of your office, or stop driving and step out of your car.
To reconnect with nature is to reconnect with wonder.
Whether it’s just a few deep breaths as you sit on a patch of grass, simply taking a walk through a local park, or full on spending a night under the stars… reconnecting with the wonder of being a human being standing on a rock that spirals through space and seeing the earth for the vast support network it is can’t help but lift your spirits for the better.
Interviewing two astronauts taught me this: that the earth is a ball of vibrancy whose life and color and beauty stand out powerfully among the backdrop of space.
We can’t all stand on the moon and appreciate the perspective the way these men did, but taking even one minute to surround yourself with the power of nature has a way of creating a perspective in life that is real, is powerful, is strong.
The power of nature can hold even your worst of days and remain an immovable source of strength.
Don’t believe me?
The next time you are having a panic attack, or a pounding headache, or a knot of worry grow in your stomach, just go outside.
Get out there. Don’t force anything, just start walking and let nature work its magic.
2. Focus on Spirit.
This is something shown over and over again in the medical literature — the power of prayer to affect clinical outcome is a beautiful fact.
The surest way I know to alleviate stress and suffering is to find meaning in it.
Whether it’s through mediation, personal prayer, asking friends and family to pray for you, cultivating your own sense of spirit surrounding and supporting you — these are all such important ways to alleviate stress.
The divine support system is around you, surrounding you, whether you pray or not. Never fear that. Nothing is required of you.
But calling on the power of prayer and connecting with that reservoir of love is an instant boost that strengthens you and changes outcome, no doubt about it.
Need some more inspiration?
Read Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl.
He is a concentration camp survive who writes beautifully about how the people who survived these horrific conditions were not the strongest, or youngest, or even the healthiest… they were the ones who found meaning in what they were going through.
Finding a deeper, spiritual meaning in what you are going through is — in and of itself — enough to sustain you.
My kids will tell you that if I am really grumpy, all we have to do is hop in the car and turn on the radio and within a few songs, all of a sudden I don’t feel so hopeless.
In fact, I feel optimistic and grateful and filled with the same sense of wonder and possibility that I feel when I spend time in nature.
The power of music to wash through you and lift you is amazing.
If you are feeling stressed or depressed, especially if you can not leave your current surroundings (perhaps you are in the hospital or your office or your car…) slip on some music and allow it to sweep through your soul and lift you higher.
Music is universal and can meet you wherever you are.
4. Reach out to your support system.
I didn’t realize how many people I had in my life until I went through my own personal time of stress.
There IS a support system around you, even if you don’t think you have a friend in the world.
Some of my most meaningful sources of support were from people I had never ever met before — like the manager at my local bank and the complete stranger who came to pick up some furniture I got rid of as we downsized our belongings.
Both of these people forever changed my life. Both of these people are angels living on earth.
And don’t even get me started on the unbelievably generous neighbors, friends and family that I actively leaned on for support.
I can’t even process it all yet, it’s all so new and fresh, but I hold so many people in my heart and I am so full of gratitude to them all that I know I’ll never be able to properly return the favor… instead I yearn to pay it forward in service and in gratitude for them for the rest of my days.
If you are having a stressful crisis, ask for help.
Ask your neighbor, ask your family, ask your friends.
If you have none of the above, go out into the world asking for help to show up — go to the park, go to your bank, go to the grocery store, go to the thrift shop.
Angels are out there waiting to embrace and help you.
A symbolic fresh start during times of stress can help you move on towards healing and help usher in new, positive and hopeful energy instead of feeling stuck.
For me, this meant that the kids and I are looking forward to literally moving into a new space to live (more on that in upcoming blog posts!)
But even when it was impossible to move, I went through my entire home with the idea of bringing in fresh energy — freshening up the plants in each room, rearranging some of the furniture when I could, and adding a mirror or two and burning candles of light in the evenings to help create a new flow of light through our old, dark and depressing space.
Even if you can’t do anything to change your physical surroundings, creating a symbolic gesture in order to usher in a new start is so very important.
From going outside to take a deep breath of air, to lighting a smudge stick, to ringing a bell and setting a new intention for the space you are in, do something to break the illusion that you are stuck.
You are not stuck. You are a new person every single day and every moment within that day.
When our physical surroundings don’t change, especially in the midst of great turmoil, you can get caught up in the illusion that your situation is permanent and hopeless.
This is not so… there is always an ebb and a flow of energy through every situation no matter how unchanging it appears on the surface.
The illusion that things never change can mentally hold you in a place of worry.
Release this by making small changes to your living space, changing the energy of the room you are in, physically leaving the space you are in for a breath or two, or using candles/incense/smudging/bells/chimes/lighting/a new plant… whatever it takes to feel the energy shift in your space and remind you that nothing… NOTHING… stays the same forever.
6. Gratitude and compassion
This is a no-brainer — one of the gifts of going through suffering is that you can witness and hold other people’s suffering so much more fully.
Ever since our stressful family change, the children and I have gone deeply into witnessing suffering and holding that space and honoring what other people have gone through.
Compassion and gratitude for the journey and knowing that others have made it through ordeals much much MUCH worse can really help instill hope to your own journey.
As contrary as it sounds, topics that would have felt dark or depressing to the kids in their homeschool studies even just last year somehow feel powerful and empowering to them now.
For example, this year we are going deeply into WWI and WWII studies, reading Anne Frank’s diary and having long, deep discussions about suffering and triumph… these have felt incredibly moving to us all.
Knowing the darker side, leaning into it, persevering through it, witnessing with compassion what others have gone through… all of these things make traveling your own dark night feel less lonely and more optimistic in the sense that you KNOW you will reach the other side.
You WILL reach the other side.
Focus on witnessing suffering in others around you and holding compassion for the entire yin and yang of it all, the darkness and light of the world… the richness here is a different twist on helping to find meaning in suffering and the gift here is being able to open your heart even wider then you thought possible before.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is even harder to bear on folks with anxiety or stress.
If you are going through a time of great stress, it is more important than ever before in your entire life that you sleep well.
You MUST SLEEP in order to recover from the stress of the day and the stress of the situation.
It is possible to treat anxiety solely through increasing the quality of your sleep.
8. Body work.
The feeling of worry and stress and anxiety is often the stress of energy that is accumulating in the body without release.
I know I personally feel this as a ball of pressure right in my solar plexus, but it’s different for everyone.
Irritability, crying, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, tension, muscle stiffness, decreased or increased appetite, weight loss or gain, insomnia… often these all represent energy that just needs to be released to make room for the natural healing process and health/hope to return.
If you are feeling stuck and in need of physical release, do any or ALL of the following to help assist your body in letting go of old traumas:
heat (hot water bottles are the best!)
water (in the form of showers or baths, as well as increasing hydration by drinking lots of water!)
I hope this list of 8 things you can do to actually IMPROVE your state of mind and your state of health… even in the middle of great personal stress… is helpful to you and a blessing of some ideas to consider.
Offered with much love… xoxox, Laura