What are you worrying about today in between worrying about the usual daily hassles? A possible global recession? Climate change? Gun violence? Police violence against people of color? Where the next mass shooting may occur? A civil war in the U.S.? The horrifying rise in racism, antisemitism, and transphobia over the past five years? Domestic terrorist attacks? Another pandemic that forces people to isolate themselves from one another?
If you frequently find yourself worrying and feeling anxious about any of the above issues, you are not alone. During the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a disturbing 25 percent increase in the global prevalence of depression, anxiety, and general hopelessness. Factors contributing to this unprecedented rise in mental health issues during 2020 include:
- Social isolation
- Loneliness from quarantining or being forced to work from home
- Being laid off from work/losing a job due to the pandemic
- Fear of being infected by COVID-19/fear of dying from COVID-19
- Coping with family members and friends dying from COVID-19
- Fear of the unknown
The WHO report also states that women and young people were impacted the worst by the fallout of the pandemic, experiencing disproportional risks for self-harming behaviors and suicidal ideation. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions were also at a higher risk of severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Several months after the pandemic had killed nearly 200,000 Americans, the United States experienced one of the most horrendous events in history–the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Millions of people watched in horror as Capitol police prevented rioters with lethal weapons from overtaking the Capitol and possibly harming senators and representatives hiding in their offices.
The question everyone was asking throughout 2021 was: when is everything going to return to normal? And, as 2021 passed into 2022, it was apparent that things were not going to return to normal anytime soon. Although the availability of vaccines significantly reduced severe illness and death from COVID-19 and people were returning to their jobs, the psychological harm inflicted by the frightening chaos of the previous two years had already done deep and widespread damage to Americans.
What Does It Mean to be Hopeful?
Hope is the Thing with Feathers
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all
And sweetest in the gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet never in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Being hopeful means you believe that circumstances will improve in the future. Hope is not an emotion, although it might feel like an emotion when you are hopeful. Hope is a strong assumption that things will eventually take a turn for the better, that whatever is troubling you, your family, your close friends, or the world, in general, will get better.
Being hopeful makes you feel optimistic and confident. Being hopeful empowers the sense of meaning you have about your life and the lives of others. The poet Emily Dickinson described hope metaphorically as “the little bird that kept so many warm.”
Psychologists now report that many of their patients are seeking help for depression, anxiety, and an overwhelming inability to feel hopeful or optimistic about anything anymore. Their patients are no longer asking, “When do you think things will return to normal?” Instead, they are saying, “I don’t think things will ever return to normal again. I’m just all out of hope.”
Hope Fatigue is Real: How to Cope with Hope Fatigue
Why is being able to feel hopeful about the future so important to our mental and emotional health? Here are six reasons why it is important to remain hopeful:
- Hope is a belief that helps motivate us to do the things we need to do and enjoy doing
- Hope makes us feel more peaceful and content with our lives
- Hope enhances our emotional connections to others
- Hope keeps our sense of humor alive
- Hope strengthens our insight into opportunities
- Hope makes us feel more in control of what seems to be uncontrollable events
Professional advice for dealing with hope fatigue and the sense of meaninglessness that accompanies hope fatigue starts with significantly reducing the hours you spend doomscrolling social media sites. Studies show that when tragic or unbelievable events occur, people cannot stop themselves from scrolling Twitter, Facebook, or TikTok for news and images about this event. Repeatedly seeing and reading horrific images and news about deaths, wars, recession, inflation, and mass shootings can even cause symptoms resembling PTSD in some people.
If you are a “news junkie” who feels compelled to check their social media accounts every 15 minutes, try limiting yourself to reading or watching the news once a day. Constantly being reminded of things that cause you anxiety, stress, and hope fatigue does not allow your brain to concentrate on much else but the bad stuff.
Focus on the here and now, not a future that nobody can predict. When you find yourself worrying about something that may not happen, ask yourself what the point is of worrying. Instead of worrying and feeling depressed, understand that while you can control some aspects of your life, there will always be aspects you simply cannot control.
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said it well: “I am prepared for the worst, but always hope for the best.”
When Hope Fatigue Spins Out of Control
Hope fatigue may develop into a more serious mental health issue that would benefit from counseling. A type of depression called depressive disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) can reduce your quality of life by making you feel intensely empty, hopeless, and apathetic about life in general.
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, consider calling FHE today for help coping with hope fatigue:
- In the past two weeks, how many times have you felt like things were hopeless or meaningless?
- Do you find yourself sleeping more or less than usual in the past two weeks?
- Have you missed work or school due to feeling extremely depressed?
- Have you spent whole days in bed doing nothing but watching television or sleeping?
- Have you stopped participating in activities that were once enjoyable? If so, for how long?
FHE offers compassionate counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and individualized treatment plans for people who are having difficulty dealing with recent past events. Please don’t hesitate reaching out about any mental health problem.