How to Feel Hopeful, Even When It’s Really, Really Hard

And for those with mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, cultivating hope and resilience can be key to managing their symptoms, Dr. Tedeschi says. In depression, for instance, a persistent feeling of hopelessness is often a defining symptom. In the case of anxiety, fear is one of the driving factors. “In both cases, they’re drawing the conclusion that things are out of their control and things aren’t going to work,” Dr. Tedeschi says. Figuring out a way to become more hopeful, even—or especially—when life is difficult, is usually a necessary component of treatment.

Being hopeful can help you build resilience.

Putting in the work to be hopeful has other psychological benefits too. In particular, hope helps build resilience, which “is the ability to either recover quickly from events that are challenging or traumatic or a crisis or to be relatively unaffected by these events,” Dr. Tedeschi explains.

But resilience isn’t just being able to withstand a difficult situation. “It has to do with living a fuller life,” Lillian Comas-Diaz, PhD, a psychologist specializing in trauma recovery and multicultural issues, tells SELF. “Resilience is a way of coping with adversity and being able to get some knowledge from that adversity,” which might help you improve your coping mechanisms for the future.

From there, it’s easy to see how hope, optimism, and a generally more positive outlook might develop with resilience. It works like a feedback loop, Dr. Tedeschi says: “If you have success in managing these situations, you become more optimistic about how you’re going to do in the future,” he explains. And as you develop some optimism and hope, that might help you persist and manage in the face of the difficulties we all inevitably face.

How to be hopeful when things feel hopeless

Here are a few tips from our experts.

If it’s really hard to feel hopeful right now, start by just acknowledging that.

Some people are just naturally optimistic, even in a situation like this. But, generally, resilience is something that’s learned—first through our experiences in childhood, potentially, and then later as we go through the inevitable challenges of life, Dr. Tedeschi says. So for those of us who maybe feel a little silly trying to look for a silver lining in, you know, These Unprecedented Times, trying to be hopeful just doesn’t feel genuine. And if it’s not authentic, it isn’t very helpful.

If you’re someone who finds it difficult or even feels silly trying to be optimistic right now, know that hope doesn’t necessarily mean thinking that everything will always be amazing. Being hopeful doesn’t have to be about looking for the bright side or deluding ourselves into thinking everything will be just fine, Dr. Comas-Diaz says. Hope is really just a (realistic) expectation that something good will happen—and that you have some control over it.

For some people, it might be difficult to be hopeful because they don’t have a source of hope they can immediately point to, Dr. Comas-Diaz says. In those cases, she will ask her patients to do an inventory, asking what sources of hope their friends, family, or larger culture draw upon and if the patient can “borrow” from that source as well. Think about, say, your mom or a close friend—what brings them hope? Can you share that with them or get some hope vicariously through them? Or is there a particular cause you’re really passionate about that you can draw some sense of optimism from?

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