by Beth Granet, PsyD
The spring season has arrived, the weather is changing, and there seems to be an air of cautious optimism. Despite recently acknowledging the one-year anniversary of navigating a global pandemic, the inception of vaccinations and reduction in overall case numbers remains promising. Spring itself represents renewal, growth, and hope and perhaps it is time to begin embracing this seasonal philosophy. For many of us however, we have just spent the last four seasons lowering expectations, feeling uncertain, battling isolation, and missing out on major events. After spending so much time in an anxious or even hopeless state of mind, how can we finally start to move forward? Though it is certainly no easy feat, here are some suggestions for creating and rebuilding our hopeful selves:
Acknowledge and honor your hopelessness and pessimism
Ironically, one of the more harmful and invalidating habits many of us have fallen into is trying to ignore or avoid the stress and sadness of the past year. Although it can be tempting to bury our heads in the sand, this behavior tends to accumulate or displace negative feelings. Process your genuine thoughts with people and in spaces you can trust. Once you allow yourself to talk through these reactions with a therapist or loved one, you can begin the process of shifting your narrative and looking at things differently.
Start to try and reframe your thoughts
Changing your thought patterns is a common technique utilized in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and is quite effective in terms of shifting your outlook, and ultimately your mood. Take a close inventory of your thought patterns and attempt to alter the underlying messages. For example, instead of thinking “I haven’t gotten to do anything fun this year,” try saying “I’ve gotten to spend so much quality time with the people in my home.” Noticing and adjusting the negativity in the things we say to ourselves can be a game changer when it comes to creating a hopeful perspective.
Ensure that you have things to look forward to
Each person has a different comfort level in terms of their ability or willingness to leave their home and engage in more risky activities. After considering your own comfort level, make plans and put things on your calendar that will bring joy. Whether a vacation, or simply trying to cook a new meal, having events to look forward to is an essential component of optimism. If you truly feel that you have little to plan for, you can always borrow your hope from someone else. For example, talk to a friend or family member that you know has a positive attitude and ask them what they are looking forward to. These conversations can sometimes be a starting point for our own future-oriented thoughts.
Look back on challenges
One of the distress tolerance skills taught in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) tells us to “compare” a painful experience to others. Comparing how we might feel now to previous times that were perhaps even more challenging or upsetting, can help remind us that there are still things to be grateful for, even amid uncertainty. You can also listen to other people in your life and cultivate an understanding of their adversities and difficult emotions. Enveloping yourself in someone else’s vulnerability and showing your own empathy for them can be a comparative reminder of the positives in your own life.
Making changes, remaining positive, and working hard to find hope during continuously challenging moments can feel like a tall order. Sometimes disengaging from hurtful messages and replenishing your own emotional battery is another way to retain the hope and optimism you have been trying to enhance. Limiting media time, being mindful of the narratives and potentially harmful perspectives you are receiving from those around you, and making a concerted effort to take care of yourself, are all important ways of maintaining a basic level of wellbeing and calm.
Although it is always advisable to manage expectations, having hope has many mental health benefits and tends to build upon itself. Specifically, shifting to a hopeful mindset can aid in building resilience, or the ability to bounce back and grow from a traumatic or distressing time. By remaining hopeful and increasing the likelihood of our resilience, we will find ourselves accumulating more positive experiences and growing our capacity to have hope. Remember to remain authentic in the hopeful messages you give yourself and lean on your support system when you find yourself struggling to find meaning. Here’s to spring and better things ahead!