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5 ways to keep hope when the world seems hopeless

Let me begin by saying that I am deeply grieving with all of those that have lost a friend and loved one in the last few weeks.  Because of what has happened in our country lately, many of us are experiencing an undercurrent of fear and deep grief.  
It has touched most of us in one way or another.  
Regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or occupation.  We have been touched.  Personally or by association.  

I have heard others ask, "Where is the hope?"  It seems that we are lost without a true leader.  Who will rally us together toward healing and peace?  Where will we find solace in our grief?  Will this violence and rage continue to spiral out of control or will our country find a way to pick itself up and move forward in strength?

Let me encourage you.  Hope is not lost.  Among the headlines of death and violence, there were still glimpses of peace.  The peaceful voices may seem to be a whisper in this chaotic time but they are still crying out.  They are wailing and lamenting over the blood, the grief, the rage, the pain.  Here are just a few:

  • Lady Gage joined the Dalai Lama and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation to discuss the power of kindness and compassion.  Their movement is a desire to make every city a "City of Kindness."  City of Kindness Movement
  • Nelson Mandela International Day is July 18th.  Mandela Day is calling for communities to address social injustices by encouraging youth to become involved in social action and compassion.  Mandela Day
  • The Freechild Project is an organization that supports youth in social action.  The Freechild Project

Each of the above have many opportunities for involvement in the process of social justice and peace.   But you don't need an organization or project to keep and promote hope.  Here are five ways that you can keep hope for yourself... and perhaps share it with others.

1. Hope begins with taking care of YOU.
There is no end to the flood of voices, articles, videos, reports, and so on.  And when the topic is death and violence, it automatically puts our brains on high alert.  We experience the threat and fear in a very real way.  This happened to me just last night while talking about the Dallas shootings.  I noticed that my heart began to race.  My shoulders and jaw were tightening.  At first, I felt anger.  And then sadness.  And then hopelessness as I wondered what I could do to contribute peace and compassion to the world.  The flood of violence and rage just seems to be growing.  My blood pressure was rising.  I immediately wanted a cigarette... and then ice cream.  
So I took a pause.  
The best thing that we can do is to take care of ourselves well.  When our brains perceive threat, they kick into an anxious response to stress.  This means that they flood our bodies with the chemicals necessary for survival.  This was why my heart started racing and my muscles started to become tense.  My brain was interpreting the violence in our country as a very real threat to my own safety.  Will this happen in my own city?  Am I safe?  Are my children safe?  Will the violence continue to get worse?  Will this lead to another civil war?  All of these questions are valid but not entirely helpful.  

What are some ways that you can calm down your own brain and body?  What do you like to do that puts your brain and body into a state of calm and rest?  

2.  Laughter really is the best medicine.
Last night when I realized my body was responding to threat, I told my friend that I needed to stop talking about the violence.  So we went inside and laughed through Family Feud.  The rest of the evening lifted my spirits.  I saw others laughing on television.  I saw others connecting and enjoying time together.  This silly little activity gave me hope.  It lifted me out of the darkness.  It's not that I did not care about what was happening outside of my own home... believe me, I grieved.  But we also need laughter, love, and the joy brought to us by our friends and loved ones.  Or cat videos.

What makes you smile and laugh?  What hope can you derive from this experience?  

3.  Connect with others.
One of the best ways that our brains heal from violence and pain is through the safe, compassionate relationship with another.  This means that you have someone with whom you can be honest and vulnerable.  They listen with compassion to your thoughts and are able to feel with you.  Their presence makes you feel worthy and valuable.  I'll admit, I had to pay for this person for many years.  She was my therapist.  I did not feel that those around me had my best interest in mind.  My own community constantly perpetuated my own fear and anger.  So I sought out someone that would challenge me, care about me, and remain committed to my growth.  Through my therapist, I found a peer-supported group of people that were also committed to the growth of every individual in the group.  Think through where you might be able to find this kind of support.  Faith-based group?  Extracurricular activity group?  Therapy?  Friends or family?  Support group?  Book club?  

Who are the people that provide safe, compassionate support to you?  If you don't have that right now, where might you be able to start looking for this?

4.  Sleep.
Pedersen et al. (2015) found a strong correlation between sleep and overall health and well-being.  Individuals that reported less than seven hours of sleep per night had increased risk for mental and physical health conditions, including post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression, diabetes, and heart disease.  Individuals that had a consistent seven hours of sleep per night or more were better able to meet future stress with ease.  They were overall more resilient, less stressed, less tired throughout the day, and had overall better mood and more positive thoughts.
Researchers continue to encourage more opportunity for sleep and rest.  Even if an individual is restless throughout the night and struggles with insomnia, sleep "banking" (time in bed dedicated to sleep.  This includes naps!) can be a beneficial practice for overall better health.  
I don't know about you.. but just this gives me hope!  Naps!

How are your sleep patterns?  Are you sleeping consistently throughout the night or waking often?  Are you able to dedicate some more time to staying in bed for rest?  If not, how can you make this happen?

5.  Think about strength.
It concerns me that I hear others talking about "strength" as if it means that those with strength are simply those with the greater population, the loudest voice, the most privilege, or the most guns.  This is not strength.  In the mental health field, we talk about strength-based therapy that focuses on an individual's resiliency and positive characteristics that help him or her overcome adversity.  Kindness, compassion, and empathy are all positive traits that empower self and others.  What we are seeing in the current country violence is not strength.  What we see in terrorism is not strength.  What we see in the screaming political forums is not strength.  Nor will it promote hope.
Characteristics of strength are those that promote justice.  They are those that strive for peace, resiliency, and the betterment of all people.

What are your strengths?  What strength can you see in any current events?  How might you (and our country) move forward with hope?

The "true leader" is you.  And me.  Each of us has the privilege and the responsibility to promote hope and peace in our own little sphere of influence.  
We are not hope-less.  Our world is not hope-less.
Together, we survive, heal, and move forward.  One nation under God.  Together.

Pedersen, E. R., Troxel, W. M., Shih, R. A., Pinder, E., Lee, D., Geyer, L. (2015).  Increasing resilience through promotion of healthy sleep among service members.  Military Medicine, 180(4), 4-6


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