This year didn’t turn out the way most people expected.
The scale of damage during Australia’s bushfire season stunned many, and the first reports of COVID-19 that followed may have seemed somewhat unreal. You probably didn’t foresee a pandemic shutting down countries around the world or the new turmoil sailing in from every direction.
Quarantine and lockdown, the tragic ongoing loss of Black lives, a highly contentious election season, melting sea ice, a million deaths from COVID-19 (and counting)… The list goes on, overwhelmingly so. In short, 2020 has been a year unlike many that most people can remember.
With no clear end in sight to these increasingly bleak circumstances, you might feel pretty hopeless about things ever returning to normal. And they may not for quite some time.
If that doesn’t sound very hopeful, remember this: Hope is something you can cultivate yourself, regardless of what’s going on around you. Learning to nurture hope and carry it forward can give you the strength to keep going, no matter what the future holds.
Try these seven strategies to replace hopelessness with a renewed sense of optimism.
Hopelessness can make life seem heavy, gray, and dull. The worse you feel, the harder it often becomes to muster up interest in the things you usually enjoy doing.
Yet when relaxation techniques or more sleep fail to resolve your distress, you may end up resigning yourself to your new normal. This, unsurprisingly, could leave you feeling even more hopeless. Optimism for the future may seem pretty impossible when you can’t brighten a dismal mood.
Take unhappiness, for example. Digging beneath the surface of this general feeling can help you uncover the layers below — loneliness, annoyance, boredom. The more detailed you can get, the easier it becomes to identify the most helpful way of working through those feelings.
Some emotions you might be feeling include:
Keeping a mood journal or expressing your feelings through art and music can help you get in better touch with your emotions.
Meditation can also help you practice acknowledging and accepting uncomfortable feelings instead of instinctively pushing them away.
Most people have plenty to grieve this year. It’s both normal and healthy to mourn losses large and small.
Even if you haven’t lost a loved one, you might grieve for missed opportunities and things you can no longer do. Perhaps you had to cancel your wedding or long-awaited vacation, or you lost your home or income. Maybe you needed to completely alter your way of life.
Complicating your grief might be the fact that the pandemic — or another complex situation you’re living with — still continues. How can you stop grieving if your loss is incomplete?
Here, too, naming your losses can help. Even if you know you’ll continue to grieve, acknowledging the pain and giving yourself the chance to fully experience your feelings can help you begin letting them go and looking forward with renewed optimism.
This acknowledgement might look something like these examples:
- Sure, you had to put off your vacation, but you and your family remain healthy and have grown closer during quarantine. Who’s to say the rescheduled trip won’t be even better?
- Maybe you finally decided you’d start dating seriously this year. Distance dating might not be what you had in mind, but what if a relationship formed and tested during a pandemic proves stronger from the get-go?
Above all, remember that good things happened before, and they will again — even if they look a little different from what you’d envisioned.
When it comes to global or even nationwide concerns, there’s only so much one person can do. But even drops fill a bucket eventually.
Your actions might seem insignificant, but they can still have an impact. And where you can’t take any concrete action, your voice alone can make a difference.
The insidious mutter of hopelessness might tell you, “We’re all doomed, so what’s the point?” Yet change remains possible until the moment you give up.
So, speak out against racism and other injustice. Be a champion for kindness and compassion. Recycle, conserve energy, and consider your environmental impact.
Look into other ways to make a difference, and encourage others to do the same.
Staying anchored in the present moment and letting yourself experience things as they happen can help you begin to confront feelings of hopelessness.
You might wonder, “Won’t tuning into my hopelessness just leave me feeling worse?”
Generally speaking, no.
When you increase your awareness of the specific things currently troubling you, identifying helpful solutions for the moment becomes easier.
Staying present also helps you pay more attention to the good things in your life and find meaning in small daily joys. When you fixate on things that have already happened or things that might happen in the future, these positive moments often get swept away by the tide of negativity and distress.
For most people, 2020’s particular brand of hopelessness stems from multiple factors. Your worries probably don’t just center around COVID-19, the potential demise of your career field, or the loss of your social life. You might also have concerns about climate change and racism.
The monumental size of these issues can give rise to fatalistic thinking as you begin to wonder, “Why bother trying, if there’s nothing I can do?”
Instead of worrying about future possibilities that haven’t yet come to pass, explore ways to feel better right now — because that’s where you can really make an immediate impact.
Even when you can’t do much to feel better, you can usually do something. Being present makes it easier to address challenges one step at a time and recognize small ways to achieve your goals and create change. You learn where you do have some measure of control and when it’s better to let things go.
Choosing to take good care of yourself can also help you regain control over spiraling thoughts of hopelessness. Good self-care practices can boost your energy and leave you feeling more capable of facing challenges to come.
While self-care can mean eating balanced meals, staying active, and getting enough sleep, it also means taking breaks when needed and cutting yourself some slack.
Devoting your attention to the causes that matter to you can ease feelings of hopelessness, but it’s important to avoid doing too much. You can’t show up for yourself, or anyone else, if you burn out.
Making time for hobbies and activities you enjoy is one healthy way to find balance.
You might want to stay informed on current events, but it’s wise to detach from the constant stream of news and social media and spend time enjoying nature, catching up with loved ones, or curling up with good book (or even a video game).
There’s no denying the pandemic’s impact on things like:
The inability to spend in-person time with loved ones has left many people feeling lonelier than ever before, and loneliness often adds more fuel to a lingering sense of hopelessness.
It might take a little more maintenance to keep friendships and relationships thriving, but with effort, you might end up feeling even more connected to the people you consider most important.
Maybe you can’t throw a party, but you can still:
- Host a group chat or Zoom get-together.
- Try out your streaming service’s “watch party” feature.
- Plan a physically distanced picnic in your local park.
- Pick up the phone for a long chat with your best friend or closest sibling.
Talking through distress can lighten your burden, but it’s worth considering that loved ones might be grappling with similar emotions. Opening up gives them a chance to share their own struggles so you can support each other.
Hopelessness may not be a specific mental health diagnosis, but it can still have a pretty significant impact on your health and well-being. Persistent hopelessness might affect your sleep and appetite or play a part in depression and thoughts of suicide.
While coping strategies often help ease emotional distress, they may not always work. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed or done anything wrong, only that you might benefit from a little extra support.
A therapist can help you uncover the roots of hopelessness and explore ways to address the things you can change. Even more importantly, they can teach you skills to accept and manage the difficult feelings that accompany challenges you can’t do anything about.
When a difficult situation never seems to improve, when each new loss follows closely on the heels of the last, it’s easy to throw up your hands and say, “There’s nothing I can do.”
No one knows what the future holds, and these “unprecedented times” are far from over. Self-compassion and kindness can help you support yourself through the darkest moments, and the rekindling of hope lies in action, however small.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.