We have been living with COVID-19 for a year now. Can you remember back when we thought everything would close down for a couple of weeks and then we would be back to normal? After that, we thought it would last a couple of months, and, for sure, in the fall, all would be back to “normal”….
We have been disappointed, repeatedly; we have been frightened as the number of cases and deaths rose and new strains emerged; we have been frustrated with the challenges of finding where and how to get vaccinated; and we have been bored with the closed-in life we have had to accommodate. However, at the same time, we have found new ways to connect with others, discovered creativity that we had no idea existed within our psyches and enhanced our coping mechanisms in miraculous ways.
And now, here we are, a year later, with vaccinations either available for some or around the corner for others. This is the time for hope, but I am hearing from many that hope is not as readily available as they had imagined it would be when the vaccines arrived. Just where is the hope and what happened to it?
What gets in the way of hope? Hope comes from several elements joining together.
1. First, we need information. Blind or false hope is pointless and will disappear with the sunrise, meaning that the clarity of reality will wipe out false hope. The potential hope that we were offered with the idea that “it will disappear in the spring” was not paired with science, and was therefore, a false hope. Even if we momentarily gravitated toward it, that hope didn’t last long. We need to know that there is reason to hope, such as, the vaccination is available, schools are re-opening, or the number of new cases is consistently going down. All of these are budding reasons for hope.
2. Hope also requires positive feelings. Some might call this a positive attitude, optimism, or faith. Whatever your frame, you need to have some sense of positivity to take the “hopeful” information and turn it into actual hope. With negativity, we can turn any positive information into something suspect. I am sure you have heard statements like: “The vaccine will only keep you out of the hospital, it won’t protect you from actually getting it” or “Who knows how the vaccine works, so I can’t trust it.” We need to trust and have faith in facing the unknown.
3. Another element of true hope includes a reality check, such as assessing risks and dangers. Hope that carelessly guides us without the knowledge of potential risks can easily lead us down a path of danger and destruction. To step forward with true hope means that we take the potential threats into consideration and calculate those risks into our plans.
4. As we all know, fear can get in the way of recognizing hope. Our fears illuminate the dangers, while faith, knowledge, trust in ourselves and a positive attitude balance the fear by allowing us to put the risks into perspective. We need to recognize the dangers, take them into account, and not allow them to paralyze us. We then can move forward with hope that all will be well and safe, knowing that we can manage any inherent challenges. We need to establish a balance between the fear and anxiety related to the true risks, and the strategies to manage the dangers. This allows for hope to emerge.
One way that we have learned to take care of ourselves through COVID-19 is to “just say no”. The easiest, safest method to remain healthy has been to significantly reduce interaction with others. With the changing information about COVID-19 and much misinformation in the atmosphere, it has been difficult to make informed decisions regarding what is safe and what is not-so-safe. Also, the insidious nature of the virus has made most interpersonal interactions seem potentially dangerous. We learned to not trust. The fall back solution has been the safety of staying home.
However, two things have happened: the positive feelings associated with connecting with others have been dampened with the fear of infection, and our behavior patterns have shifted from “reaching out and touching” to finding safety and solace in staying home. Our habits and rituals have changed. Going out has transformed from fun to scary.
The question now is how do we turn this around to find hope once we have been vaccinated, or have that potential soon, even though we have adopted a new lens of distrust and distance? Dr. Lucy McBride, a physician at Foxhall Internists, PC in Washington, DC, offers the following advice in her weekly COVID-19 update newsletter:
Everyone (vaccinated or not):
Manage Fatigue: Check your internal gas tank. How are you feeling? How is your family holding up? Find ways to fill it up…through rest, reading, meditation, exercise and connection.
Combat Frustration: Trying to let go of the things that are outside of your control is almost always helpful. That said, if you also want to scream out of your windows at how many hours you’ve wasted trying to track down a vaccine, please do so. (I’ve done it a number of times already.)
Face Fear: Not to go too philosophic—but there is nothing to fear but fear itself. You all know what to do to stay safe, and the light is finally there at the end of the tunnel. You’ve got this. (You will be OK.)
Those who have been vaccinated:
Wait two weeks after your second shot…and then celebrate!!
Hygiene/Precautions: Keep wearing your masks in public and keep washing your hands. It will help prevent you from getting the Flu, adenovirus, you name it. This should be our new normal. But do those things because they’re generally smart to do, not due to any lingering concern about catching COVID or giving it to others.
Travel: Absolutely consider it. Do not live in fear. All signs point to the vaccine being effective against the new strains. If we can’t embrace the benefits of this vaccine, this will be a very long pandemic indeed. Again, I’d advise you to mask up and wash your hands when you do travel as a general rule of thumb, but don’t do it because you’re petrified. Now is the time to let that burden go.
Seeing Loved Ones: Do it!!! Hugs for everyone!! We all need this moment in our lives. There are, of course those crazy theoreticals: if you have been vaccinated, then visit a COVID hospital ward (i.e. a place just teeming with virus) and don’t wear a mask, and then visit a high-risk relative—then I might suggest distance and mask wearing…but the chance of carrying and transmitting the virus after vaccination is quite low.
For those awaiting vaccination:
Stay strong and carry on. Hope is on its way!
Looking for more tips and guidance? JFS Orlando’s counselors are specialized in various areas and are here to support you. Telehealth counseling appointments now available! Medicare, Medicaid and almost all commercial insurances are accepted. Call 407-644-7671 or complete our new online form to request an appointment today!
Dr. Eloise Stiglitz, PhD is a licensed psychologist. Her passion is helping people through challenging transitions, whether it includes a crisis like a divorce, death, move or career shift, or a personal evolution centered around sexuality, spirituality or disability. She works with seniors, helping them through their difficult times, young adults creating their sense of self, as well as all those in between struggling with the many life challenges that we all face. Her specialties include women’s issues, depression and anxiety, substance abuse and addictions, sexuality, grief and relationship concerns.
Eloise believes that the therapy relationship is a powerful healing tool, empowering people to make the desired changes in their lives. Her eclectic therapy style integrates cognitive-behavior, Neuro-linguistic programming, and solution-oriented interventions with a relational-developmental, client-centered perspective. More importantly, she connects with her clients through intensive and caring listening, truly open-hearted support and a delightful sense of humor.