These deranged times have, among many other things, been an object lesson in powerlessness. So many things we can’t control. So many policy decisions – directly impacting our daily lives, and our safety – entirely out of our hands. So much trauma. So much anxiety. Normal life, whatever that looked like, has been off the table for far too long already, and it’s not coming back anytime soon. Loves ones have been out of reach, and will continue to be for who knows how long?
Covid laughs at plans. It scoffs at calendar entries, sneers at plane tickets, and wreaks havoc on relationships and mental health. It is more than we can reasonably expect to bear, yet bear it we must. And that’s without even considering the normal dramas of life that don’t take pity on us, just because there’s a pandemic.
Years ago I went to a talk by Bob Brown where I was struck by his central message: We can’t achieve anything from a position of pessimism. To make progress, to fix things, to get anything done, we must have hope. Optimism can change the world, pessimism can only mourn its passing.
Yet optimism is in desperately short supply right now. Everywhere we look, there is a barrage of relentless devastation. Bushfires. Attempted Coups. Climate Change. Conspiracy theorists. People who vote for people who are MANIFESTLY incapable of the jobs they are being voted into (not an exclusively American phenomenon, I have to say). Covid numbers out of control. Joblessness and homelessness on the rise. Domestic violence. Continued unconscionable cruelty to refugees whose only crime was to ask us for help.
The urge to go back to bed, pull the covers over ourselves, and sing Lily Allen’s Fuck You as loudly as possible is overwhelming on even the best days.
And some days staying in bed is, indeed, the best we can do. But we must find hope. And that takes work – right when more work feels like the last thing we have the energy for. Fortunately, it’s work that pays immediate dividends. This is my list of concrete actions I take to find hope. Some days they work well. Some days I still struggle. Some days I can’t even bring myself to do them. But they help.
- Virtual Co-working. I have a virtual co-working video chat that I keep open when I’m working alone in my office. I share it with a few social media groups I am part of. Some days no-one shows up, sometimes lots of people do. There have been some wonderful conversations, some surprising connections formed, and some fabulous reconnections. Some days I haven’t got the energy to do it, though it doesn’t take much, but it’s always worth pushing through that feeling and firing up the chat.
- Make more phone calls. This one is weirdly hard these days – why call, when we can text, email, or message? It’s so personal! But that’s exactly why we should do it. Because it’s more personal. Because it’s easier to share your feelings when you can hear someone’s voice, and feel like you’re sharing a space. Private video chats are great, too, but need more setup. Phone calls can be spontaneous. I don’t do this enough, but I’m working on it!
- Stop reading/watching the news. It seems to be the media’s role, these days, to make people as upset as possible. To insist that horrifying and portentous things are afoot, whether they are or not. Stop reading it. Check the headlines once per day if you must, but stop doom scrolling and obsessively refreshing. You will still hear about important things. I find that the less I read the news, the less I get caught up in the hysteria of it. “But, it was a funny thing: every day something happened that was important enough to be on the front page of the newspaper. She’d never bought it and seen a little sign that said ‘Not much happened yesterday, sorry about that’.” Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals.
- Curate your social media. Mute, block, or otherwise avoid the negativity. On Twitter I have made a list I call “Priorities”, and I read that list instead of my full feed. The only people on that list are people who share mostly positive things, and people I am close to whose tweets I definitely want to see. And “Unsolicited Dik-diks”, “raccoon every hour”, and other cute animal feeds. Sometimes even my Priorities list has too many people sharing trauma, in which case I avoid twitter for a while. On Facebook I have designated a small handful of people “see first”, and those are, again, people I trust with my mental health. I often don’t read the rest of it at all.
- Read or watch positive, uplifting things. My reading this year has largely been Young Adult fiction, cheerful romance, and optimistic non fiction such as Rutger Bregman’s “Humankind: A hopeful history.” On TV we’re currently enjoying Lucifer as a family – because it mostly leaves us entertained and amused, rather than demoralised and traumatised. This is no time for Buffy: Season 3, or anything emotionally challenging.
- Pat a (consenting) furry animal. Of course, if your furry animal of choice is a cat, consent may be withdrawn unexpectedly at any time, so keep your wits about you. But engaging with animals is emotionally rewarding and clinically proven to alleviate stress.
- Get out into nature. Whether it’s a spot of light gardening, a bushwalk, or staring out to sea, engaging with nature is another proven way of relieving stress and seeing the upside of life.
These are some of the things that work for me. I want to change the world, and to do that I have to be able to lift my head and see the horizon. Some days my head is heavy, so I need a little help. What do you do to lift yourself up?