As we recover from the pandemic, how do we take care of our mental health, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and keep hope alive?
Have you wondered how to keep hope alive amidst personal, national, and mounting global concerns? Some people are optimistic by nature, but most of us must be intentional about cultivating hope in a climate where bad news bombards us day in and day out. Our human bent naturally leans toward negative thinking, so we succumb to what-if thoughts that lead to fear and wrong conclusions. Unless we rein in the negative and unleash the positive, we lose sight of the light and lose heart.
Why Does Hope Wane?
Hope is a vital component of mental health and an overall healthy lifestyle, but it seems the general population is finding it more difficult to keep it alive in these crazy times. Those who struggled with feelings of hopelessness before COVID-19 found those feelings magnified during the pandemic as businesses went bankrupt, families were separated, social gatherings shut down, and churches closed their doors. (https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-mental-health-cannot-be-made-light-of)
The pandemic has been declared a thing of the past, but the emotional and mental fallout remains. Those who seek professional help find it hard to secure because so many medical professionals left their career due to stress overload.
Pandemic aside, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects nearly 7 million adults in the USA. An online article says, “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. People with GAD may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. Individuals with GAD find it difficult to control their worry. They may worry more than seems warranted about actual events or may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.” (https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics)
My Struggle to Keep Hope Alive
Full disclosure: I’ve had to be very intentional about fighting worry and a mindset of expecting the worst this year. Four of my friends died before the end of February. All were younger than me and left children behind. Then war broke out and the influx of Ukrainians to neighboring countries flipped many of my coworkers’ ministries upside down. Concern for their physical, emotional, and mental well-being as they devoted themselves to aiding the refugees added to my growing angst. Then a fifth friend and ministry partner—a 38-year-old father of two—passed away on March 4 after a lengthy battle with COVID. My only brother was admitted to the hospital with COVID that afternoon and began the fight of his life. Five days later, a family member sent a scathing email that attacked my very core. As if that stress-filled season didn’t bring enough hardship, four more friends died before spring turned to summer.
Wave upon wave of loss and grief swept over me, and I struggled to catch my breath. I empathized with King David when he wrote, “And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.’” (Psalm 55:6-8 NLT) I joked with my husband about taking a permanent sabbatical, but I wasn’t laughing on the inside.
One day, I felt as though I could bear no more pain. A cloud of sadness settled over me, and a heaviness unlike anything I’d ever experienced filled my heart. That’s when I realized I was slipping into an unhealthy place emotionally and mentally. I needed to stop my gradual descent into despair. I needed to keep hope alive.
Intentional Actions to Keep Hope Alive
Keeping hope alive when life deals blow after blow requires intentionality. We allow ourselves to feel the pain our circumstances bring, but then we apply specific actions to pull ourselves back to a place of confident trust that everything’s going to be okay. Here are seven actions I took and continue to take to keep my hope alive and maintain a healthy lifestyle despite ongoing challenges.
Recall God’s faithfulness in the past.
It’s easy to lose hope when tough situations surround us. We can keep hope alive, however, by shifting our focus from our difficulties to the One who guides us through them when we recall the many ways He has proven faithful in the past. Psalm 77:11 says, ”I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” (ESV)
Make a list of the ways God has provided for your physical needs and shown His love through tangible means. Keep that list handy and reread as often as necessary. Use it as a constant reminder that He loved you then, and He still loves you now. This exercise will do your heart good.
Keep a gratitude journal.
God wove our bodies together and knows how they work best, therefore, He tells us to give thanks in every situation. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Science proves that expressing gratitude even when we don’t feel like it releases serotonin and dopamine, the hormones associated with pleasure and contentment. Writing down at least one thing for which to be thankful every day can literally make us feel better and bring calm to the chaos in our soul.
Celebrate the small.
Sometimes life’s concerns weigh heavy on us. We slog from one task to the next and wear a mask to convince others that we’re fine when we’re not. Sadness rules the day, and we may even forget how to smile.
Learning to celebrate life’s small things can restore our smile and renew our hope. Why not mark the start of a weekend by inviting a few friends to play board games on Friday evening? Why not celebrate the advent of autumn by strolling in the crisp air and later sipping a pumpkin spice latte? Don’t wait for big occasions to throw a party. Do it now.
Bless other people.
My eldest daughter was hospitalized with meningitis when she was eleven months old. Her situation was critical, and humanly speaking, I had every reason to feel overwhelmed. One evening after returning home from the hospital, I was too wound up to go directly to bed, so I baked cinnamon rolls for the nurses on her ward. Seeing their delight and appreciation when I delivered the goodies the next morning worked wonders for my spirit.
Looking beyond ourselves and doing something special for someone else brings joy. When we express kindness to others, the blessing returns to us.
Exercise is vital to our mental health and a healthy lifestyle by reducing stress and working as effectively as anti-depressant medications. One study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discovered that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26 percent. It increases blood flow and releases endorphins that energize us and bolster our mood.
Throughout the pandemic, I used an online resource to guide me through daily cardio and weight-training exercises. I’m certain that staying fit helped me weather the storm more successfully than I would have otherwise. It took discipline to stay on course, but it was worth it.
Pray with a friend.
The enemy of our soul likes to mess with our minds. When we’re experiencing difficult times, he’ll whisper lies to us: “You’re the only one in a situation like this. No one really cares about you. No one has time to listen to your sad story. Don’t kid yourself; you’ll never survive this ride.” Believing his lies robs us of hope and makes us vulnerable to self-pity or loneliness.
Praying with a friend pulls us from that dark place and puts us back in the light. We find hope in pouring out our hearts to God with assurance that He hears us, and hope grows even stronger when we hear others praying on our behalf. We are not alone. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” Jesus said. (Matthew 18:20 ESV)
Focus on truth.
Allowing fearful thoughts to dwell in our minds gives them the go-ahead to lead us lickety-split down the wrong path and land us in a pit of hopelessness and despair. That’s why it’s so important to combat them with truth. Here’s one biblical truth that has sustained me through this difficult year: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV)
How do we keep hope alive amidst personal, national, and mounting global concerns? How to we upkeep our mental health and a healthy lifestyle? Ultimately, it’s by making our relationship with God a priority and living from the truth of who He is. We find our hope in Him alone because He is faithful, He is wise, and He is good—all the time.
About the Author
Grace Fox is the author of 13 books including her latest release, Fresh Hope for Today: Devotions for Joy on the Journey. (https://tinyurl.com/5n7nybux) She’s a member of the First 5 writing team (Proverbs 31 Ministries) and co-host of the “Your Daily Bible Verse” podcast. She enjoys living a healthy lifestyle aboard a sailboat near Vancouver, British Columbia. Learn more about her books and subscribe to her updates to receive printable freebies that will enhance your daily quiet time: https://www.gracefox.com/books
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1 thought on “How to Keep Hope Alive”
Mental health is so important, especially following the pandemic and seeing how others have been able to improve their lives. Great information shared here that will help others, too.