What to do when you’re (barely) hanging on to hope

From listening to the words of Mr. Rogers to learning when to quit

Nancy Dutra

Sometimes a flicker of hope is all we have to get us through dark times. The belief that life will get better helps us hang on to hope, however tenuous our grasp. Then, one day, light shines through the cracks and our burdens are miraculously lifted. Our steps become buoyant, and smiling is a natural expression of the lightness we feel after sloughing off the dead weight of doom.

Hanging on during these next few dark and cold weeks of the pandemic will be crucial. Despite disturbing talk of variants, vaccines bring us hope. Hope that our days will soon more closely resemble life before the pandemic, when we were free to rub shoulders with strangers and hug our family and friends.

While this promised land is not exactly imminent, the spring equinox heralds warm weather and a respite from the melancholy brought on by surviving a winter of discontent in a seemingly interminable lockdown.

While sunshine, freshly bloomed flowers, and adorable spring puppies out for their first walks will likely bring some much needed cheer, there are things you can do — then and now — to help lift your spirits.

First, be a part of the solution.

Follow safety guidelines as mandated by health officials, and when in doubt, err on the side of caution. Don’t let pandemic fatigue lead you to decide that it’s okay to take off your mask ‘just this one time,’ and don’t make excuses for yourself or others when it comes to following the rules.

Plan ahead and don’t drink alcohol or ingest marijuana if it’s going to impair your judgment and lead you to make poor choices. Stay informed and do what is necessary to keep yourself and others safe because our lives depend on it. You want your future self to be proud of your consideration for others. Be on the right side of history.

Second, look for the helpers.

When Fred Rogers was a child and frightened by horrific stories in the news, he was comforted by his mother’s advice: “Always look for the helpers.” No matter how bleak the world may seem, there are always people finding ways to help. We can look to these everyday heroes and regard their actions as evidence that goodness abounds in the world.

Focusing on others’ generosity is a good way to boost positivity, but don’t just think about it. Instead, write a list and read it regularly for inspiration, should you start sinking into despair. Be grateful for essential workers of all stripes, such as nurses, doctors, teachers, cashiers, delivery people, parents of school-aged children, volunteers, and more — you get the idea.

Third, let inspiration galvanize you into action.

Inspiration is not enough, and neither are our hopes and prayers. Educate yourself about the racialized and socioeconomic groups that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and find a way to help.

Perhaps you can purchase or deliver groceries for a frontline worker. How about helping those who are unable to work during the pandemic? Why not attend a virtual performance that will pay artists? Though their work may appear exciting and fun, the years they spend toiling at their craft are decidedly unglamourous.

If you’re strapped for money or time, find a way — within your economic and emotional means — to contribute. Never forget that small gestures can make a big difference and that lifting someone else’s spirits can also lift your own. And, if you’re really struggling, reach out and give someone the gift of helping you. We’re all in this together, and together is the only way we’ll get out.

Fourth, surrender to the advice of pushy — yet trustworthy — friends or family.

If there is someone you trust and they tell you nicely to go take a hike or a walk for your mental health, just do it. Don’t argue with them or indulge and debate with the little devil sitting on your shoulder telling you to spend another day moving from your bed to your desk.

No matter how reluctant you may be, listen to this person who cares enough to tell you the truth, and get outside. Walking may not cure what ails you, but if you amble for at least 10 minutes, it’s enough to change both your scenery and mindset, and possibly inspire you to keep going. If you push yourself to walk, you’ll feel at least a little bit better. Or at the very least, a little less worse.

Fifth, take a mental vacation from the pandemic.

While staying informed is important, at times, too much information can be overwhelming. Therefore, it is sometimes advisable to go on a news diet or take a mental vacation from the world. Block out a few hours in the privacy of your home and pretend the pandemic doesn’t exist. Read a book, watch a movie, have a spa day, or call a friend. For those few hours, and for the love of your sanity, ban the pandemic from your conversation.

And finally, when hanging on to hope becomes too hard, consider the words of author and activist Glennon Doyle. When asked by a journalist how she keeps from quitting when the world seems so terrible, she replied:

“Oh, I do quit! Quitting is my favorite. Every day, I quit. Every single day. I wake up, and I care the most amount. And then — at some point — I put it all away and melt into my people and my couch and food and nothingness. And I care not at all. I forget it all. Then, I go to sleep and wake up and begin again. Begin and quit every day! Only way to survive.”

Quitting in order to rest is a crucial part of resilience. Let others hold the candle when yours has burned out, and be sure to return the favour when you’re feeling hopeful. After all, we’ll get through this year — one mask-wearing day at a time.

Cover visual: Here are five ways to find hope in dark moments. SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY