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Tips for staying hopeful

Here are some ways to stay present and hopeful during these unsettling times. I have gathered them from a variety of sources — newspaper articles and personal anecdotes primarily. A few suggestions came from my 7-year-old grandson. The last one came from observing our dog in the early morning.

My initial recommendation requires coming to terms with the fact that things aren’t great. I was reminded about this in a recent opinion piece in the Oregonian, which boldly put forth the importance of looking at a really difficult situation head on, recognizing that it’s not only bad but “it’s about to get a lot worse.”

That sounds counterintuitive to feeling calmer and more hopeful, but apparently there are spiritual teachings that rely on the fact that if we can look at something really scary directly, unflinchingly, we have taken the first step to transcending our frightened feelings about the overall situation.

Another not-surprising suggestion for retaining hope in tough times is to be someone’s “angel of compassion.” My husband and I are always looking for a cause, so we recently subscribed to a Facebook page focused on homelessness — populated by those who are. It was quickly apparent that many “house-less” people have taken to living in their cars and will need an abundance of hand sanitizer and loads of warm socks for the upcoming COVID-19 winter. Any of us can immediately and easily be “angels” using those parameters.

Simple affirmations can reduce stress. Our family has always used a table prayer that goes, “For life and health and every good, we give thee thanks, oh Lord.” Our young grandson thinks we should say it more often and not just before we eat. I think he read the research on the calming power of focusing on gratitude. I gave him a blank journal to draw pictures and print words of gratitude, and it is nearly full. That fact alone gives me hope.

There is another quite-simple suggestion for coping in difficult times that came to me from several people: “Establish a routine.” It has anti-stress benefits and prompts restorative sleep. My daughter’s family has a five-foot-high white board that identifies things that need to be accomplished in a given day — with a place to check them off when they are completed. It includes household tasks as well as family frolic. “Feed the dog” is right next to “Take the dog to the new dog park — with her tennis ball.”

And speaking of dogs, or pets of any kind, they can be the ultimate balm during self-isolation — unconditional love abounding. Just observing our spaniel doing her early morning stretch, after which she flops over on her back with her belly fully exposed, waiting, makes me more present and hopeful.

And while I am on the floor giving a tummy rub, I am more likely to count my blessings, which include being able to get up off the floor and go for a morning walk. Eyes wide open, embracing whatever comes next.

Sharon Johnson is a long-time columnist and author who is working on a new book titled “Sharks in the Gene Pool.”