Daylight hours are short. Lockdowns are still in place, or back, or come with new rules. Vaccines are months away, for most Canadians, and production delays loom. Many of us are feeling really tired, or just stuck. Welcome to the COVID Wall.
It feels almost like a physical barrier between us and our happiness. For way too long we’ve been subjected to fear, school shut-downs and business closures. We’ve been told to stay indoors and we’ve been unable to see our loved ones in person.
Compounding those COVID-related worries, 2020 came with a litany of other issues, like social unrest, climate change and racism.
Hitting the COVID Wall
The list can feel monumental and dealing with it can feel overwhelming. When we sense we’re not making headway we can start to feel helpless, and slip into attitudes or statements like “I can’t make a difference,” or, “What’s the point.”
Those are symptoms of hopelessness, which is a highly destructive emotion.
But – ironically! – there is hope.
For a start, don’t feel guilty about not tackling every issue all at once. Prioritize your own mental health. It’s much easier to help others when we’re emotionally strong ourselves.
The vocabulary of hopelessness
A research team in the psychology department at the University of California says that to combat hopelessness, we have to start by labelling our feelings.
Some of us may not have a vocabulary for defining hopelessness, so here is what to look out for.
Hopelessness can be described as a heavy, grey and dull feeling. It’s a bit like a weight on our bodies that makes us struggle to get motivated. Feeling like it’s hard to get up in the morning is a result of being weighed down mentally.
It’s tempting to give in to that emotion and stay in bed, or lie on the couch in our pyjamas, despite the fact that it’s actually making us feel worse. The evidence of that is we start finding it impossible to get up, get dressed, and focus on the things that makes us feel energized, happy and well.
Other feelings of hopelessness can be labelled as:
- Persistent fear.
- Chronic worry.
- Cynicism and distrust.
- Irritability and anger.
- Overall sense of gloom and unease.
Many of us chalk up these feelings to part of our new normal – this is just our life now. But that attitude leads to problems. Resigning ourselves to this mental state, to hopelessness, can have long-lasting negative effects.
Healing from hopelessness
So, what do we do? How can we break through the COVID Wall?
Start with acceptance. This past year has given most people plenty to grieve. It’s both normal and healthy to mourn losses large and small, so make space to grieve. Ignoring feelings of loss does nothing to help us move on. Remind yourself: These are extraordinary times. I don’t have a frame of reference for this, so it’s fine to feel out of my depth.
Stay in the present. Write down one positive thing about your day, every day. The note can be as simple as, “I took a shower.” “I made myself a meal.” “I laughed with my colleague.” “I had one less Zoom meeting today than yesterday.” Right now, it’s not about flourishing. It’s about remaining present and attempting to stop catastrophizing our experiences. Checking off a list – regardless of how big or small the tasks – helps us to feel like we’re making progress. Remind yourself: Today was really hard, but I made it.
Control the “controllables.” Choosing self-care can help us regain control. Start small: make something healthy for dinner. Walk outside for 20 minutes. Set a bedtime and follow it. Take a social media break. Get dressed up for dinner. Have a long shower or bath. Call your friend. These can all be done easily and quickly.
Escape for a bit. Sometimes, to stop spinning our emotional wheels we need a circuit breaker – a disruptor that comes between our ruminating thoughts and our calm, happy thoughts. Perhaps that means reading a book, doing a puzzle, watching a movie, listening to a podcast, chopping wood, knitting, needlepoint – the activities will be different for each of us but the idea is to spend at least 30 minutes forcing our brain into focused attention. That helps get us out of a hopelessness spiral.
Take control of something that’s been bothering you. Feeling like your workload is overwhelming? Talk to your boss. Need a mental health day? Take one. Need help with the housework? Ask others to pitch in. Sometimes we need to find a release valve that will let off some steam so we don’t explode. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Get help. Sometimes we need an expert to teach us the skills we need to accept and manage the difficult feelings that accompany challenges we can’t control. If there was ever a time to stop holding back from speaking to a mental health professional, it’s now. These days there are numerous teletherapy options and, with teletherapy, we’re not beholden to what’s available in our community. If we do need public health and community support, there are virtual options.
So, when you’re feeling extra low: ask for help. Perhaps we don’t need to break through the COVID Wall on our own: Maybe what we need is someone on the other side to throw us a rope and help us climb over.