As the pandemic continues beyond what was thought of at the start as a temporary timeout from normal activities, being able to stay motivated, positive, and optimistic has become ever more difficult. In fact, maintaining the will power to remain positive, goal-driven, and cheery is downright impossible. My own experience and the remarks of those close to me willing to be frank and shamelessly honest convinces me that navigating this pandemic inevitably involves periods of not only losing momentum but feeling downright hopeless. If you are in one of those low ebbs, finding yourself feeling fatigued, without much drive and beginning to think that life is pretty pointless, know that you are not alone and that it is part of the journey that many are experiencing during this pandemic. I have decided to call it: “pandemic-induced hopelessness”.
As a clinical psychologist, what can I offer you to help you cope with the profound feelings of hopelessness that you may feel during the darker times of navigating this pandemic? Well, the first thing I would say is don’t try to talk yourself out of your negative state by using positive affirmations. Also, don’t fall down the rabbit hole of self-condemnation and self-reproach for not being more resilient. Periods of hopelessness and lack of purpose and direction are part of the story of trying to live through a pandemic. You are not weak. You are just being human. Trying to put a smile on your face and forcing yourself to think positive thoughts will only backfire. In the world of emotions, the saying is: “what you resist will persist.” Pushing away negative feelings does not make them evaporate. They just come back later in full force to bite you in the ass. What is best to do might seem totally counter-intuitive. You need to totally accept your feelings of powerlessness and allow yourself to feel the hopelessness. When you allow yourself to stay with a feeling instead of denying or repressing it, interestingly, it changes. When allowed to be, feelings do not stay the same, they change into something new over time. The truth is that the feeling of powerlessness is understandable because we are all powerless over many things during this pandemic not the least of which is being able to plan for the future. So allow yourself to honour and release those feelings through crying, talking to a friend, exercise, yelling into a pillow, or creatively expressing yourself through art or dance.
Next, try to disidentify from thoughts you are having rather than allowing them to completely consume you. In other words, take a step back and realize they are just thoughts that you are having right now and that just because you are having these thoughts does not mean that they are the only truth. There are times you have thought and felt differently. There are things about what is happening that have also felt good, life-promoting and valuable. Think about some of the things that you have done that you might never have tackled like talking more often with certain friends, learning to cook new meals, redesigning your home, finding free exercise workouts online, watching shows you never had time for before, and putting more time into gardening, etc.
Now that you have honoured the feelings of hopelessness, you can shift to a different point of focus. Just because things are on hold right now does not mean that you cannot think about the things in your life that you can look forward to. Try creating a list of the things that you want to see as a part of your future. This list can include major life goals that you have yet to realize and/or it can include simple things that you are looking forward to experiencing once the pandemic is over. With a chance to reflect on your life, you might even come up with some new ideas about what you would like your future to look like. What matters is that you get your mind to move from the negative focus to one of the positive possibilities. While some of our goals will necessarily be delayed during this pandemic, the pandemic will not last forever, and staying in touch with the things you want to do and the things that matter to you in life are very, very important.