How to Maintain Optimism During Difficult Times

Whether on the field or in your personal life, it can be difficult to remain hopeful when things seem to be going– well, not quite as we hoped. However, actively working to build a healthy sense of optimism can have many benefits on our mental health, motivation, and athletic performance. In this article we will take a look at what optimism truly means, and some simple strategies for practicing optimism even when things are hard.


What Optimism Is (And What It Isn’t)

Perhaps when you think of optimism, you envision someone maintaining a cheery and upbeat demeanor even in the midst of difficult circumstances. But optimism doesn’t have to look like plastering on a fake smile and acting like everything is okay. In fact, healthy optimism requires us to embrace that both positive and negative emotions can and do exist simultaneously. Therefore, in the midst of a challenging situation, you can be sad, disappointed, angry, and/or fearful, and also hopeful for the future. Being optimistic is not about pushing down the negative emotions; it’s about acknowledging their presence, while also holding onto the belief that these feelings won’t last forever and things can get better.

Research has noted the numerous benefits of maintaining optimism, in managing stress and recovering from trauma. One recent study revealed that there is a correlation between optimism and improved athletic performance. 

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4 Simple Strategies for Staying Optimistic

  • Take the time to acknowledge and reflect on your emotions. Despite widespread belief, optimism is not about pushing down negative emotions, vowing to ‘think more positively’ or ‘just look on the bright side’. In fact, the idea that we should remain positive in any circumstance can be referred to as toxic positivity, and it can have harmful effects. Instead, allow yourself the space to feel whatever you feel- no matter how painful or uncomfortable it may be to do so. Tuning into our emotions provides the space for us to recognize that it is difficult right now, but there is the opportunity to grow and learn through the struggle- and the pain won’t last forever.

  • Seek out a sense of meaning and purpose. Finding meaning in the midst of hardship can go a long way in difficult times. Perhaps you are finding that this situation isn’t what you would have chosen for yourself- but through it, you are learning more about who you are and what is most important to you. Maybe a particular struggle is leading you down a new path of being able to serve others going through something similar. In the midst of whatever circumstances you are in, look for opportunities to grow and be changed in new ways. Journaling is one outlet that can be helpful for connecting some of these dots and reflecting on your experiences and what you are learning.

  • Develop a coping mantra. It can be helpful to come up with a coping statement that you can repeat to yourself when you are faced with a difficult moment or hit with a wave of uncomfortable feelings. Perhaps it’s something like ‘I am brave- I am scared but I can do this’ or ‘I will be okay.’ Repeating a mantra can help you to remember that while things are challenging right now, you can cope and hold onto hope for the future.

  • Seek out support if needed. Staying optimistic can certainly be difficult, especially when it feels like things are too overwhelming and you feel unsure of how to cope. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support from a mental health professional who can help you to process the difficult emotions you may be experiencing and gain clarity about how you might move forward. You are not alone; whatever circumstances you are in, there is support available and there is always hope for things to get better.

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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