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How to feel hopeful now

In times like these, hope can feel slippery. What’s the best way to feel hopeful when we’re surrounded by uncertainty?

But even when the future isn’t as clear as you might like, you can cultivate hope in the present moment. Doing so can even be good for your overall health, says Mark Flanagan, LMSW, MPH, MA, a social worker at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont Fayette.

“I think when many folks think of hope, it’s seen as a kind of passive activity,” he says. “But it’s less of a passive thing and more of an active one.”

By taking small steps toward concrete goals, you can make a difference in your outlook.

How to create hope right now

One of the most effective ways to build hope, Flanagan says, is to focus on what you can do right now. For example, you can take action to stay healthy today even though you don’t know when the COVID-19 pandemic will end.

Wearing a mask, washing your hands and watching your distance are all effective immediately.

“Hope is all about what we’re doing in our daily lives to move forward toward a positive future,” Flanagan explains.

Apply that same line of thinking to other parts of your life. What can you do today to make a tangible difference for the better?

Flanagan suggests sitting down and writing a list of ideas. Perhaps you’ve thought about taking up gardening. Instead of an amorphous goal that’s difficult to quantify, start small: You could buy a gardening book, for example, or order seeds.

Now you’re preparing to make real change, and you’re also working in a creative mode instead of a reactive one. You’ll feel more in control and recognize your own abilities to shape things around you.

Can you feel hopeful while also feeling sad or scared?

Yes, Flanagan says, you can certainly feel hopeful while still recognizing your fears and stressors. Building hope doesn’t mean you can (or should) block out the rest of the world.

But acknowledging anxieties doesn’t make you beholden to them. By staying focused on positive action to take today, you’ll build a solid foundation for the future.

Reframing is also a useful strategy, he says. If you’re feeling down about life during COVID-19, try to consider some positive elements of the current world.

Fewer cars on the road means less air pollution, for one. Maybe you have more time to spend with your family now. Or perhaps you’re getting out of the house and into nature more often.  

“The only time we can actually change something is right now,” Flanagan points out. “Not in the future – that doesn’t exist yet. And in the past, that’s already gone.”

How to live in the present

Living in the present allows you to focus on what’s really within your control. It helps you stay in touch with what matters and understand where to focus your energies. 

To help you stay in the moment, Flanagan suggests:

When you’re being creative and staying present, you can prepare yourself for whatever comes your way, Flanagan explains. Instead of living in a reactive mode that depends on the outside world, you’re empowering yourself to center what matters most to you.

“We have a great degree of choice in how we act in our day-to-day lives and how we move forward,” Flanagan says. 

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