Many of us are tired (exhausted, actually) and ready to be done with the pandemic and all its negative effects—on our work, our communities, our people and our wellbeing. We’ve been muscling through and staying positive, but many of us are reaching our limits.
It’s important to remain optimistic, keep going and maintain hope. That is no small challenge, but there are ways to sustain energy and forward momentum. Think of these as protective processes—ways to think and act which can help you tolerate uncertainty and difficulty to keep moving ahead.
Validation and Compassion
Times are tough and glossing over challenges is actually less helpful than validating experiences. A study at Ohio State University and another at Penn State found when people felt others had listened and understood their problems, they were better able to stay positive and move forward constructively. A related study at Case Western Reserve University using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) found when people received compassionate coaching focused on the future, they experienced a positive boost in the parts of their brains responsible for cognitive, perceptual and emotional openness—contributing to better brain function overall. We can do this for ourselves as well. Validate your own feelings, be compassionate toward yourself and give yourself permission to be a little down. It’s natural to feel less than perfect with all you’ve been through.
In addition to validating your own feelings, it also helps to share them with others. Sometimes just getting something off your chest and feeling the support of a caring friend can be enough to help you move forward. Be careful not to over-emphasize difficulties or bring each other down though. Share, listen, learn from each other and empathize. Then ensure you’re focusing on positives as well. Get support for what’s tough, and also talk about future possibilities and motivate each other.
Empowerment and Action
You can also foster hope by taking action. A feeling of hopelessness often goes along with feelings of being out of control. Remind yourself how much you’ve achieved so far and how well you’ve been able to cope over the last year and a half. Also consider the small actions you can take from here. Perhaps you can help a neighbor, tutor a child, learn a new skill or focus on eating healthier. While there is a lot which is outside of your control, you can still create the conditions for happiness and hope. So empower yourself to take actions that will matter to you and your family, friends and colleagues.
Another way to be more hopeful is to limit the bad news you’re exposed to. Social media and media in general can focus on the negative, so getting away can help you keep perspective. Just as a steady diet of junk food can make you feel physically bad, a steady diet of bad news can reduce your positivity. Stay in touch with reality, but be judicious about how much time you spend “doomscrolling” so you don’t overwhelm yourself with negativity.
At the same time you’re reducing the negative, you can also increase positive inputs, and focus on being grateful. When you feel greater gratitude, you also tend to feel happier. So, consider all the elements of your life you appreciate—not just things, but also people, conditions around you and your own capabilities. Foster gratitude in multiple moments of your day—the sunrise on your drive to work, the great music at the concert you attended, or the child you saw learning to ride his bike as you pulled into your driveway. Taking pleasure in small moments can increase your overall positivity.
One of the hallmarks of resilience is strong relationships. When you feel a greater level of connection and belonging, chemicals are released in your brain that make you feel happier. As mentioned earlier, your network can also support you through hard times. Stay in touch with friends, prioritize activities with family and build relationships by investing time and energy caring about others. Talk with hopeful people, seek to learn from those around you and offer support at the same time you’re also seeking support. Helping others, contributing to your community and using your talents in meaningful ways all have positive effects on your own feelings of hope and optimism.
Meaning and Perspective
Another pathway toward more hope is to look for meaning in the circumstances you’re going through. Perhaps challenges at work made you appreciate your colleagues more or helped you build your creative muscle because you’ve had to solve new problems. Maybe the isolation you’ve experienced has ultimately helped you value your relationships and take more time with friends. Consider the way your challenges can help you see the bigger picture and develop a greater understanding of what matters most.
Finally, keep perspective. There is a saying, “Everything will work out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end yet.” Remind yourself the hard stuff will pass, and you will get through it. Focus on the future and keep the end in mind. Even if you don’t know how the comprehensive solutions to your biggest problems, just take the next logical step to keep moving forward.
Hope can be illusive, and optimism can be a challenge to maintain when the conditions around you are deteriorating. But you can empower yourself to reframe your mindset and think positively, take constructive action and keep contributing to your community. Being strong and optimistic is good for you, and it will do worlds of good for those around you who can learn from you and be inspired by the choices you make.