I’m not a mental health professional. I’m a hope builder. I feel like that, more than anything else I do on this earth, is my purpose. Because hope, when you really think about it, is the only thing you need to get better (besides lots of drugs, exercise, fish oil, probiotics, friends, self-help books, doctors, sleep, therapists, nutritionists, support groups, meditation, yoga, divine intervention, etc.). Once you stop believing in a better tomorrow, you’re in trouble.

But hope doesn’t happen in our sleep. It takes practice and patience. Here are a few ways I cultivate hope. Maybe they will fill up your hope tank, too.

1. Visualize a Healthy You

I mentioned this the other day in my blog “8 Steps to Like Yourself (More).” A psych nurse once instructed me to visualize myself all better. I pictured a very serene woman in a pink sundress, her hair up in a French twist. The expression in her eyes articulated true peace, as if nothing could shake her serenity.

She was not under attack by five families of intrusive thoughts and their second cousins. No obsessions had her wondering if she would sleep through the night. She was the image of calm. When I picture this woman, I feel hopeful, like I may get to see glimpses of her in my future.

2. Consider the Evidence

Scribbled in black pen on the pages of my mood journal is proof that I have always rebounded from depressions in my past. When my hope tank is low, I will leaf through volumes of my mood journal to see for myself that the suicidal number 5 went down to a peachy 0 at some point in that hellish time of my life, that my numbers fluctuate not only on a yearly or monthly basis, but also on an hourly one.

When I don’t think I can take a minute longer of life here on earth, these convenient records indicate that relief might be coming in the next hour. It’s like that quote says (author unknown): “On particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100% and that’s pretty good.”

3. Smell the Roses

For Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” For my mom and several other people I know, hope is the thing with wings that used to crawl: a butterfly, which speaks of the miraculous metamorphosis that is possible in each of us. Hope, for me, is the thing with petals … roses … so I surround myself with them. I keep a box of dried rose petals on my desk, and a rose jewelry box that a reader sent to me with rose oil, rose stickers, rose perfume, and a glass angel ornament holding a rose.

If you have a symbol of hope — something that tells you that there is life beyond the pain you feel — plaster that symbol everywhere, so that when your eyes catch it, you say, with a sigh of relief, “Oh yeah.”

Originally posted on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

Art by the talented Anya Getter.