10 Therapist Tips for Finding Hope in Dark Times

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Unfortunately, this year we did not have a quiet and happy time, given the many unhappy events that took place in the last months, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial crisis that many Americans face and the racial trauma that our country is going through right now. All these unfortunate events contribute to the accumulation of stress in everyone’s life and people need to find a way to deal with this struggle. 

Another negative effect of the coronavirus outbreak is longer-term collective trauma. Collective trauma refers to stress and other psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, that are shared by a group of people who all experience the same event. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the coronavirus disease pandemic may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. However, these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Coping with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.”

So, here are some tips for finding hope in a difficult time, according to therapists. Read on for more info!

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Just take a little break

One of the most important things that people should do when they feel stressed is to take a break for a minute, don’t talk, just look around and focus on your breathing. 

“When you’re stressed or anxious, your breathing can get irregular, and shallow breath affects our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which can make us feel anxious and negative,” says Roseann Capanna-Hodge, an integrative and pediatric mental health expert in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

According to experts, breathing deeply and intentionally can calm down your nervous system, which reduce stress.


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Talk to your loved ones

Sometimes the best solution to cope with stress is to talk to your loved ones about your problems, especially because they will understand you and may experience the same feelings as you.   

“Collectively, we are all going through unprecedented times of uncertainty and trauma,” says Erinna. “You may find that you are not alone in how you are feeling and can find some sense of solace by leaning on your support system.”

You can simply ask them how they find hope during these times. “You can even ask that question of social media and inspire others to look within and share what works for them. It can feel so good and hopeful knowing that you have prompted a search that brings hope and possibilities to others,” said Kathleen Murphy, a licensed marriage and family therapist and executive clinical director at Breathe Life Healing Centers.

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Exercise more

Exercise is extremely good for both physical and mental health. So, try to take advantage of this and exercise every day for at least thirty minutes. You should move your body even if it’s just for a walk.

“Movement is an excellent grounding technique for self-regulation and can help to clear an activated fight-flight-freeze response,” Erinna says. “Blacks have always operated in the space of angst. As a nation, we have all been in a heightened sense of danger for an extended time.”


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Try to let go of feelings of guilt

Sadly, many people feel guilty for not doing enough and this is one of the biggest mistakes that can lead to stress, depression and anxiety. It’s important to understand that you are doing more than enough for your community and your efforts will be rewarded in the long run. 

For instance, “it’s important to not feel guilty if you think you are ‘not doing enough’ to help fight racial injustice,” says Siobhan D. Flowers, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Dallas and adjunct professor at New York University. “Not everyone’s role is to be out on the ‘front lines’ protesting. There are many other ways to make a positive impact, including spreading awareness via social media, donating financially to worthy organizations, educating yourself, and having real conversations with family and friends who may have differing opinions.”

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Find a new hobby or learn something new

“From the pandemic, financial insecurity, and increasing racial trauma, there is an overwhelming sense of uncertainty and anxiety about the future,” says Erinna.

So, if you want to feel financially and professionally safe, try to take advantage of some free or reduced-priced training, certifications and support and learn something new that can help you in the long run.


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Take time to think about your problems

Experts say that you should take the time to think about your problems, but try to find a “worry time” that is far away from your bedtime. 

“Acknowledge anything you are worried about and make plans for addressing any issues,” said Annie Miller, a psychotherapist in private practice in the Washington, D.C. “Choose a time that is far enough away from your bedtime so that your brain has time to settle before you go to bed.” 

“Scheduling worry time in this way trains your brain to have a contained time to think about difficult things. This may lead to lower stress levels,” Miller says.

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Set boundaries

If you want to get over racial trauma or pandemic stress you should set boundaries around the information that you consume. “Place limits on the amount of information you are consuming and be selective about what news sources and social media outlets you engage with,” says Flowers.

Try to disconnect yourself from the things that hurt your feelings and focus more on improving your peace of mind.


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Spend time outdoors

According to experts, you should spend some time in nature if you want to improve your mental health. 

“It creates a sense of stillness, wholeness, calm, and beauty. Nature and its bounty are a testament to all the storms that have come before us. We find the trees still standing, and the canyons richer and deeper, from these storms,” said Renee Exelbert, a psychologist and founding director of The Metamorphosis Center for Psychological and Physical Change.

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Focus on positive things

One of the most important things that you have to do if you want to be happy again is to try to focus more on positive things. 

“It is a lot more work to focus on positive things and it takes practice,” says Miller. “Our brains are wired to protect us from danger and have an inherent negativity bias and are thus more attracted to troubling information. To pull yourself out of the negativity, actively practice finding something positive to focus on.”

“See yourself there and feel yourself there; bring in those sensory elements. Taking a few minutes every day to practice seeing the positive has an incredibly positive effect on your mood and behavior,” she says.


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Have some “me time”

For a healthy life, you need to take some time to relax and focus on the things that help you develop mentally, physically and spiritually.

“Placing self-care as a priority is not a ‘selfish’ thing to do, especially during these difficult times,” Flowers says. “Disconnecting and taking a break to recenter yourself is a form of self-preservation that is much needed for your own long-term sustainability in avoiding burnout. Give yourself permission to take a much needed break if you need to,” she says.

“Meditation can calm both your mind and body and restore a sense of groundedness and balance,” says Capanna-Hodge.

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