mental health

Finding hope during a pandemic

Steph Arnaldo
Finding hope during a pandemic
Holding on to hope can feel impossible – here's what you can do to help keep it alive

Raise your hand if you’ve experienced at least one of these scenarios: Spacing out in front of your computer too often (brain fog included); listlessly staring at your bedroom ceiling at two in the morning, unable to shut your brain off for sleep; or waking up with a surge of heart-pounding anxiety, feeling too paralyzed to move.

Maybe you’ve experienced all of the above, plagued by a general sense of fatigue every day – almost like you’re walking through a swamp full of mud, both physically and mentally.

(Note: These symptoms may be indicative of mental health disorders, which should only be diagnosed by a healthcare professional. Please seek professional help if needed).

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These scenarios, psychologist and relationship counselor Lissy Puno says, are signs of hopelessness – something many of us have been experiencing over a year and a half into the pandemic. It’s that persistent “meh” feeling at the background of everything we do, the fear of believing that things will get better soon, or the thought that nothing will change.

However, this “hopeless” feeling is completely valid and normal given the circumstances, Lissy Ann says. We’ve spent over a year and a half in lockdown, left to our own devices, with no clear end in sight. It’s no wonder we’ve lost hope, and we shouldn’t blame ourselves for that.

It’s okay to not be okay: Losing hope is valid

It’s important to tell yourself that it’s normal to be feeling this way – after all, nothing about these “trying times” is normal. Finding new ways to mentally cope and “pivot” during a traumatic pandemic is already tough enough, coupled with the need to survive, the pressure to thrive, and the fact that the light at the end of this coronavirus tunnel seems dim.

Year one was okay. What’s wrong with a few months stuck at home, baking sourdough, whipping coffee, trying yoga, no longer commuting to work, and hopping on Zoom calls with friends? Some even welcomed this slower pace of home life – until it stretched on for too long.

We’re halfway through 2021 and the pandemic novelty has worn off. We’re tired, amid a third hard lockdown in Metro Manila, rising COVID-19 cases, political debates, work-from-home burnout, and a constant cycle of lockdowns and bad news.

“People are losing hope that things will be better because the uncertainty and the unknowns have just been dragging on for too long,” Lissy told Rappler.

“To stay hopeful, we need to know and see the ‘finish line’ to keep going.  With the pandemic, the ‘finish line’ has been changed too many times in different areas of life that people are feeling hopeless,” she added. This is when clinging onto hope starts to feel ridiculous and fruitless.

The meaning of hope, then and now

According to Lissy, the basic definition of “hope” is the belief that things will get better. On the contrary, “hopelessness” may sound like: “This will never end,” “Nothing will change,” and “We will continue to be in this state for who knows when.”

“In these times, there are glimpses of what may help keep us hopeful,” Lissy said, such as the loosening of quarantine restrictions, opportunities to finally connect with people, a decrease in cases, the re-opening of favorite establishments, or the possibility of travel. “But then those go away, and there is a lot of disappointment that takes away hope of what we envision moving forward,” Lissy added. In a way, hope becomes tiring.

Lissy notes that hopelessness is something we’ve all experienced, even prior to the pandemic, due to the “usual stressors, like traffic, finances, job security, being in relationships, raising families, and so on.”

“When this became too much, we engaged in activities that brought joy, happiness and hope,” she said. Now, all of that is taken away. 

“We have lost our usual stress-busters and coping mechanisms that would bring us renewed hope every time,” Lissy said, which are now hard (or even impossible) to look forward to due to the pandemic.

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Had a stressful day at the office? Maybe calling up your friends to meet over drinks was your go-to decompressor. Mental block at work? Take a break at your favorite coffee shop. Need to clear your head before heading home from work? There’s nothing a leisurely stroll around the mall and some retail therapy can’t fix. Going through a break-up? Book a trip with your girlfriends and head to the beach.

The pandemic has come with its own share of stressors, but our coping mechanisms have now just been limited to within our four walls.

Lissy quotes American psychologist C.R. Snyder, who defines hope as the “belief that there is the possibility of a better future,” and “the knowledge of the possibility of something better.” It was easier to hope for things to be better back then; we had the choice to switch up our routine the next day, or the agency to plan a fun weekend with loved ones, knowing for certain that’s all we’d need to feel better again.

Hope now comes at a deeper level and at higher prices. “We hope that this will pass, hope that I will find a job, hope that I can cope with my financial obligations, hope that the right partner will come my way, hope that me and my family will stay healthy, hope that everyone gets the vaccination, hope that we will emerge from this pandemic, and just hope that no one dies,” Lissy said.

Are you hopeful or hopeless?

According to C.R. Synder, an individual with a “strong sense of hope” uses hope to manage their worries, stress, and negative thoughts, reassuring themselves that “things will get better.” They are motivated to stay positive by looking for things that make them happy. 

“Hopeful people also plan for their future – both near and far – and make choices to help them achieve their goals/dreams. Hopeful people take charge of moving forward,” Lissy said. It’s also important to note that there is no definite timeline for “moving forward” – do it at your own pace.

If your goal is to stay connected, this could be something as simple as scheduling a virtual game night with your friends. If your dream is to launch your own online business, blocking off a few hours to do research is a small but impactful step. If the goal is just to get through the work day, simply writing a to-do list is enough. Even just setting aside “me time” every night is something hopeful individuals do.

On the other hand, Lissy says that an “individual who is hopeless” is one who cannot find the silver lining in any situation, and doesn’t have the mental capacity to reassure themselves that small inconveniences are not the end of the world. A “hopeless” individual could easily take constructive criticism as a sign that their job is at stake, and not alternatively think that this could just be an opportunity to perform better next time around. A break-up could be misconstrued as a failure on their part, instead of thinking that they deserve someone better.

“These people also avoid life experiences that can turn things around for the better, or small choices that can help them. They tend to focus on the negative,” Lissy said. It’s normal to experience feelings of sadness, disappointment, and self-pity from time to time. However, if left unchecked and unprocessed, individuals may end up wallowing in these negative states for too long, which could lead to anxiety and/or depression.

LF: Hope

Hope is not something that is obtained externally; it is something found, awakened, or honed from within. This is what Lissy calls the “Powerful Self” – a mode that enables us to see the world and our experiences in a hopeful, positive light.

“The Powerful Self is usually the competent self versus the helpless/hopeless mode of self. These modes of self make us see things, think of things, feel things, and act in a certain way based on this mode,” Lissy said.

“If I see a situation with my Powerful Self, that experience will most likely be satisfying and fulfilling.  If I see a situation with my helpless/hopeless self, the experience would be filled with worry, anxiety, and with a sense of failure and dread,” she added.

You might feel like working extra hard is the only way to “achieve” it, but the Powerful Self isn’t something external from you. The Powerful Self is already within. Lovingly and patiently allow it to emerge by fostering and embracing the following qualities:

  • Competent. “I can handle whatever life throws my way. I got this.” According to Lissy, a competent individual “believes they have the capability to cope with whatever experiences and problems the day may have in store.”
  • Growing. “There is something I can learn from this.” “What is this situation telling me?” Having a growth mindset (and not a “woe is me” victim mentality) is crucial to stay hopeful. This person can “improve, understand, and see things in a positive perspective,” and understand that “the possibilities are still limitless.”
  • Nurturing. “I can take care of myself and the needs of others.” “How can I better care for myself?” Before caring for their loved ones, the Powerful Self understands the importance of caring for one’s self by listening to their own needs and respecting their boundaries.
  • Compassionate. “I can be kind to myself and accept myself for who I am.” “I respect and empower myself.” Tough times call for more kindness, especially to yourself. When we start becoming more compassionate to ourselves, we become the same to others.

Despite these dire circumstances, daily choices can help soothe the anxiety that comes from feeling helpless. Aside from your usual arsenal of coping mechanisms – whether that be exercise, professional therapy, self-help books, or prayer – Lissy Ann shares five small steps to keeping the hope alive.

  • Create new dreams that you can plan for. 
  • Look for positive mentors, friends, public figures, or family members who stayed hopeful during their challenges. Reach out.
  • Listen or read inspiring messages of hope. You can check out TED Talks on YouTube, join online spiritual communities, or read poetry.
  • Allow yourself to discover new things about yourself and others. Keep an open mind. Connect.
  • Look for your silver linings during the pandemic. Practice giving every situation the benefit of the doubt.
  • Practice gratitude daily. Something as simple as writing down five things you’re thankful for every morning – from the roof over your head, to your health, and even to your cup of coffee – can help set the tone of your day.

Can’t stand change? Lissy Ann says: Look for your constants. Keep your friends, family, and pets close, and don’t forget to rely on yourself for daily self-care – having a routine helps. In this chaos, try to find your calm.

Confused? Seek clarity. Only read news from trusted media outlets, and tune out the rest. Practice social media hygiene by avoiding constant doom-scrolling and taking necessary breaks.

Feeling out of control? Anxiety preys on our need for control and our fear of uncertainty, so try to focus on the things that you can control, like your daily habits, reactions, choices, intentions, and actions. Accept and surrender what you can’t change.

Concerned? Be careful. Continue taking care of your physical and mental health, and don’t forget to be honest. Sharing your fears and anxieties with others is not a sign of weakness. Opening up is strength.

The light at the end of the tunnel may seem hard to find right now, but despite the darkness, we still choose to get up every day. That alone is a sign that we haven’t given up hope, and that we believe that better things are on their way. Hold on to hope – no matter what it looks like to you – because on most days, it’s all you need to get by. – Rappler.com

Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.