As COVID-19 vaccinations increase and various restrictions are lifted in America, it feels like the pandemic may be winding down. Or at least the intensity of it is decreasing for many. Things may feel like they are returning to “normal.” However, the past 16 months have been challenging to say the least. How do we find hope after a pandemic? Read on as we look forward to future together.
Living with uncertainty
Uncertainty is a difficult thing to live with. As COVID restrictions are lifted, finding hope in the future may seem scary sometimes. Many people are still in a state of “languishing.” As Adam Grant described it, languishing is the state of feeling “blah.” It includes decreased motivation and focus, feeling empty, and having trouble with keeping up momentum. One who is languishing may not necessarily be mentally ill but not they don’t feel great either. The pandemic and resulting uncertainty has led a lot of people into this state. It isn’t necessarily conducive to hope. You may still be experiencing languishing. You may also be feeling like you’re in constant limbo or a liminal state. Things feel uncertain and a bit empty, perhaps devoid of hope. How do we accept the past and present but develop hope for the future?
Reframing the past
For many, the past year during the pandemic has involved trauma, indescribable loss, and huge challenges. Many, many people also had a lot of extra time on their hands. A common feeling was stress that we were not using this extra time to be productive. However, simply surviving the pandemic is an accomplishment and success. The effects of the pandemic emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually will be looked at for years to come. Consider the resilience you and your community may have shown. Consider how much we did for each other and how we are still looking forward to the future. We zoomed and made masks and wore a lot of sweatpants. Surviving the past year is a win. Don’t discount any hardships, but don’t forget how we are still here and that in and of itself is a triumph.
So as we consider the past year and all the uncertainty we may still be feeling, how can we look forward with hope? First, let’s consider how to define hope. Hope has to do with thinking positively, but is more so about having motivation to persevere toward goals and a better future, despite not knowing what will happen. Hope allows us to keep working despite setbacks, not simply believing “everything will work out.” As Diana Raab points out, hope is “ignited in the heart, where passion, perseverance, and faith meet.” It involves compassion and empathy as well.
To develop hope, try the following steps:
- Acknowledge there is always hope, no matter how hard a situation appears
- Seek out others who have hope to inspire you
- Practice gratitude to shift your perspective
- Focus on problem solving–start with something small, and work together with someone you trust
- Help others and spread hope–this could include volunteering or just listening to someone who needs a friend
Research shows that individuals with more hope report better mental health. This includes more positive emotions, less depression, less loneliness, and a stronger sense of meaning and purpose. Hope also leads people to be better problem solvers to deal with problems instead of envisioning and focusing on the worst case scenario.
Another way to foster hope is focus on finding and making meaning. Observe those around us in society who are creating meaning through art, design, music, poetry, and activism. This reveals a belief that things can get better and a better future exists. Creating something sends the message that hope is not a lost cause.
How can you focus on making meaning and connection? Reach out to loved ones. Make art and music. Spend time in nature. Learn a new skill or hobby. Make your life rich and full, despite the uncertainty you may still be feeling. Think about what “belonging” and “community” mean to you. How can you show others they have value? Try to remain empathetic and remember we are all in this together. Remember what it felt like to be isolated and reach out to those who are still isolated. This might include those who are chronically ill or the elderly.
If you are having trouble finding or creating meaning in your life or feeling hopeful, reach out for help. Counseling is a great way to work on developing hope and meaning. Counselors help you define your values, set and meet goals, and find out what makes your life worth living. If you are experiencing burnout at work, thinking of switching careers, wanting to develop your relationships, then counseling may be helpful for you.
Are you looking for more support for yourself or a loved one? Please reach out to us. Our team of therapists is here to provide support and guidance. We look forward to connecting with you.
Kate is the Founder and Clinical Director of Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy. With nearly ten years of clinical experience, I partner with you to connect back to your authentic, true self. The self that desires happiness, abundance and greater self-compassion. I work with clients just like you because I believe we all have the innate ability to heal and grow when we are heard and supported.