We’ve all heard the saying -- ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst.’ Most would say it’s good advice. But what do we make of this in a situation where we’re going through some of the worst times humanity has ever seen?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought us up close with sickness and death, in ways we never expected, and it can be difficult to envision a light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Our Head of Therapy, Dr. Divya Kannan, explores the meaning of hope and why it’s only human to not deny it to ourselves even in the middle of a global pandemic.
What does ‘hope’ mean in a pandemic?
Everyday we’re confronted with numbers -- figures that represent fatalities and new cases of a life-threatening virus. It’s bound to have an impact on our mental wellbeing. A year into this, it may seem like we’re living our lives on autopilot, going through the motions as waves of grief wash over us. Many of us have lost loved ones to COVID. The ones who haven’t, know someone who has. It’s a wave of ‘unexpected’ grief.
There are some kinds we can all expect to experience in our lives -- for example, the loss of an elderly, ailing member of the family. This doesn’t make it any easier. But when death comes as a surprise, without giving us a chance to say goodbye, the grief we feel can be especially complex. And it doesn’t necessarily come as a result of personal experience.
‘Vicarious’ grief has been a characteristic of this pandemic -- where we mourn for the loss of those other than our own.In times like this, what does it mean to ‘feel’ hope? Is there any place for positivity? Isn’t it insensitive to look for joy? There’s no easy answer. Hope is, after all, subjective. It’s not a straightforward wish for a brighter future. It’s not simply a feeling.
Hope is a process -- an acceptance of reality, coupled with the belief that we can plan a way forward, and adapt to tough situations.
How does one navigate hope as a process?
Hope comes with an emotional expectation and a desired outcome -- which in the context of the pandemic could be safety and good health for ourselves and our loved ones. However, the first step in the process is understanding that we may not always get the outcome we desire.
It sounds contradictory, but the fact is, the true power of hope is that it opens our mind to our own capabilities.
Hope gives us the belief that we can resiliently cope with something difficult. That we can pick ourselves back up even when confronted with the unexpected. This cognitive flexibility is what allows us to truly believe that we will be alright, come what may.
This is where it’s crucial to distinguish between idealised hope vs active hope.
Idealised hope is what tells you “Everything will work out in the end no matter the current situation”, ignoring the possibility of things going off-track.
Active hope is the understanding that circumstances change and it’s important to invest in steps towards the goal you wish for.
How can you raise active hope?
- Recognize your season:
Are you currently seeking better clarity in your professional, personal, familial, or spiritual life? Are you looking to learn (or unlearn) something? Or are you simply pressing pause to make space for some mental and physical peace?
Regardless of the transition you’re in, recognize your season and be compassionate with yourself. Acknowledge that it is okay to feel what you’re feeling, and it will go a long way towards bringing down feelings of anxiety and panic.
- Understand that invisibility isn’t insignificant:
Carrying on within ourselves in the midst of the current situation may seem insensitive, even invalid. But know that the secret to adapting is waking up each day, facing the day, and getting started.
What’s more, keeping to yourself doesn’t make you invisible. You are simply taking this time to make yourself feel better and take steps towards the safer future you hope to see.
- Be passionate about patience:
It’s okay to take your time analyzing situations from different angles, or stopping to take a breather from your hobbies or daily life -- as long as you’re passionate about starting again.
The idea is to not get attached to the outcome but be content in the process of growth. This includes phases of spiritual understanding, generous love, and reverent wonder, which helps us cultivate thoughtfulness and resilience at deeper levels.
So, be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that this too shall pass, that healing is a journey which does not follow a straight path. That you may often find yourself swinging like a pendulum, between sadness and positivity, hope and hopelessness.
Thoughts to move forward with
What’s important to remember is this -- we’re living in a juxtaposition. It’s in the worst times that we need hope the most. So it’s okay to feel helpless, to feel uncertain of the future. Here are some questions to reflect on:
- What has this time reinforced within you?
- What are 2-3 firm intentions you’ve decided to take forward with you?
- What is that small baby step you’ve taken (or will take) to keep pushing forward?
All you need is a moment of strength -- to dig into the resource that is hope, the belief that we will cope, adapt, and come out stronger.